Big 12 Preview Week: A look back at seasons past

It is Big 12 Preview Week here at Crystal Ball Run. Before looking ahead to the 2012 season and debating who will be the team to beat and whether or not the conference is ready for another strong season, we begin once again by taking a look through history of the conference and their incoming members.

Last Year in the Big 12

Conference Champion: Oklahoma State (12-1, 8-1)

It was a year of change for the Big 12. It was also the year of the Cowboy. The Big 12 had been reduced to ten members following the departures of Nebraska to the Big Ten and Colorado to the renamed Pac-12. With just ten members the Big 12 was unable to field a conference championship game. The conference would also deal with realignment rumors that eventually led to the losses of Texas A&M and Missouri to the SEC. To fill their new vacancies the conference successfully added TCU (who earlier accepted an invite to the Big East) and West Virginia, who prolonged a pretty nasty legal dispute with the Big East in order to move to the Big 12. On the field would see a number of stories develop as well.

The Sooners entered the season as one of the popular picks to win the national championship. They would start the season ranked on top of the AP poll and early on looked the part with a blowout win against Tulsa and a road win at then fifth-ranked Florida State, followed by a ten-point win against Missouri. The Sooners were on virtual cruise control, blowing away Ball State, Texas and Kansas before a home night game against Texas Tech, who seems to have been a thorn at times for the Sooners in Big 12 history. Such was the case this night in October with the Red Raiders upsetting the Sooners 4-38 and knocking Oklahoma out of the top ten in one move. Oklahoma managed to recover and creep back in the top ten but a loss to Robert Griffin III and the Baylor Bears not only provided the eventual Heisman Trophy winner with his Heisman moment, but took the Sooners out of the BCS picture once again.

Justin Blackmon
Justin Blackmon and Oklahoma State were
explosive in 2011. 

Meanwhile it was Oklahoma State who was establishing the role of Big 12 team to beat. Mike Gundy’s dynamic offense led by Justin Blackmon and Brandon Weeden started the season ranked in the top ten and never fell out of it. The Cowboys were undefeated with wins at Texas A&M, Texas and Missouri as well as home wins against Baylor and Kansas State, two programs who proved to be worthy competitors as the year progressed. A day after a tragic plane crash killed two coaches from Oklahoma State’s women’s basketball team, the Cowboys moved forward with their schedule with a Friday night contest at Iowa State. The Cyclones played their best game of the season and came up with the big plays in the clutch to come away with a 37-31 victory in double overtime. The loss nearly took second-ranked Oklahoma State out of the BCS championship picture with one regular season game to play and no conference championship game to make one extra statement. Oklahoma State took the Bedlam game in blowout fashion, winning 44-10, but would be locked out of the BCS Championship game in the historic and controversial rematch between SEC powers, LSU and Alabama.

Instead, the Cowboys booked their trip to the Fiesta Bowl, where they faced Andrew Luck and the Stanford Cardinal. The Cowboys and Cardinal brought plenty of offense to the game and even though Luck had a terrific outing in his college finale, Weededn and Blackmon also had strong performances to lead the Cowboys to their first BCS victory. Weededn had a better game with 399 yards and three touchdowns to Luck’s 347 yards and two touchdowns. Blackmon ended with 186 receiving yards and caught all three touchdown passes from Weeden in a fitting finale of their own.

Baylor’s Griffin III provided another feel good story out of the Big 12 by practically putting the Bears on his back and leading them to one of the most successful seasons in school history. His standout season earned him the first Heisman Trophy in Baylor history as well.

5 Years Ago in the Big 12

2007 Conference Champion: Oklahoma (11-3, 6-2)

Sam Bradford and the Sooners stormed out to a furious start in 2007, scoring a minimum of 51 points in each of their first four games of the season. Oklahoma outscored their first four opponents by a combined score of 246-47, including a 51-13 thrashing of the Miami Hurricanes. Oklahoma quickly was given a reality check as Big 12 play opened though, with Colorado sending Oklahoma home with a 27-24 setback. Oklahoma would not lose again until a November road trip to Texas Tech, with the Red Raiders edging the visitors 34-27, but a win the following week against Oklahoma State assured the Sooners a spot in the Big 12 championship game for a second straight season.

The Sooners paired up with the Missouri Tigers, who entered the Big 12 championship game as the number one team in the country and one win away from their first BCS bowl appearance and thinking about a national championship. Quarterback Chase Daniel passed for 4,306 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2007 to help lead the Tigers to the top spot in the polls. Missouri worked their way to the top after starting the season outside the top 25. After blowing away Nebraska 41-6 in mid-October the Tigers moved up six spot in the polls and earned more respect by hanging with Oklahoma the following week.

Chase Daniel, SI
Missouri’s stay on top did not last long.

The Tigers continued to move up the rankings, and at the same time their rivals from Kansas were having their own Cinderella type season. Like Missouri, Kansas was having a great season from quarterback Todd Reesing, who passed for 3,486 yards and 33 touchdowns in 2007. Running back Brandon McAnderson rushed for 1,125 yards and 16 touchdowns as well. Kansas was also holding their opponents to 16.4 points per game. And like Missouri, Kansas had to climb their way up the rankings from scratch. The first time Kansas appeared in the top 25 was October 13, after defeating No. 24 Kansas State on the road, 30-24. The Jayhawks had improved to 5-0 with the win and after escaping close calls against Colorado and Texas A&M in back-to-back road games the feel-good story continued to a 8-0 record. Facing what was expected to be a wake-up call for Kansas only continued the story, with a 76-39 victory against Nebraska and a 43-28 road win at Oklahoma State. Kansas climbed to No. 2 in the country heading in to the final regular season game against Missouri, who entered the final game ranked third in the country. Kansas and Missouri would play one of the most important game sin the history of the series, with the winner likely having the inside track to a BCS national championship. Missouri would hold on for a 36-28 win in Kansas City, sending them to No. 1 after LSU lost their match-up with Arkansas.

Oklahoma derailed Missouri’s BCS dreams with a Big 12 championship game 38-17 victory. The Sooners defense was tough on Chase Daniel and the Tigers, not used to the big stage like Oklahoma. The Sooners took a spot in the Fiesta Bowl, where West Virgiia toppled them with a 48-28 victory under interim head coach Bill Stewart. Stewart had taken over the job as head coach after Rich Rodriguez left to accept a head coaching offer at Michigan.

West Virginia’s combo of Pat White, Steve Slaton and Noel Devine gave the Mountaineers a defense that was tough to stop, as Oklahoma found out. The Mountaineers started the season ranked third in the country but a Big East opener loss at South Florida temporarily put West Virginia in the back seat of the upcoming BCS picture. But this was a season that was unkind to those ranked on top. West Virginia moved back in to the BCS picture by climbing back up to No. 2 by winning their next six games, but a Backyard Brawl defeat to Pittsburgh (13-9) took West Virginia out of the mix. Following the Fiesta Bowl victory against Oklahoma, after the ugly divorce with Rodriguez, Stewart was hired to be the team’s full-time head coach.

As for Missouri, the Big 12 championship game loss as the top-ranked team actually dropped the Tigers out of the BCS picture all together. Missouri was passed over by the Orange Bowl, who invited Kansas instead. The Jayhawks did not disappoint with a 24-21 victory against Virginia Tech in Miami, while Missouri dominated in the Cotton Bowl by defeating Arkansas 38-7. 

17 Years Ago in the Big 12

1996 Conference Champion: Texas (8-5, 6-2)

Big 8
The Big 8 invited four members of the old Southwest
Conference to form what would become the Big 12. 

The formation of the Big 12 came following the decisions made by the SEC to pursue their own television contracts, thus breaking up the College Football Association in the process. This led the Big Eight Conference and the Southwest Conference to begin negotiating a joint venture, but it was nearly abandoned once Texas began exploring other options independently with the Pac 10. Texas A&M followed by exploring a potential move to the SEC, where Arkansas was already playing. As was typically the case, politics gave the Longhorns and Aggies some problems and practically forced them to stay in a conference that made more regional sense and benefited other Texas schools more. This resulted in the Big Eight to extend formal invitations to Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor and Texas Tech to form the Big 12.

The first year Big 12 competition would be played was 1996, and what a season it was. It was a time when Nebraska and Colorado were still the dominant programs. Oklahoma was going through a woeful stretch of football, winning just three games in the first year of the Big 12 (third of four straight bowl-less seasons for the Sooners), and Texas was a good but not great team. Nebraska had started the season ranked number one in the country after winning two consecutive national championships but the Huskers were tripped up early with a week two upset loss at Rose Bowl bound Arizona State. They stormed back though by outscoring their next six opponents by a combined 313-50, including a 73-21 blasting of rival Oklahoma. Nebraska appeared to be well on their way to another conference title and establishing themselves as the model program in the new Big 12. Nebraska held off Colorado, 17-12 in the final game of the regular season clash of top-five teams to clinch a spot in the first Big 12 championship game.

There the Huskers met Texas, who had dropped out of the top 25 in early October and never returned. It was a significant mismatch on paper, and gave Nebraska a chance to sneak back in to the national championship picture a couple of years before the advent of the BCS. A win and third-ranked Nebraska would have been in position to square off with top-ranked Florida State. Second-ranked Arizona State was locked in to the Rose Bowl, meaning Nebraska’s only way of not playing for a third national championship was nearly certain. Texas had other plans, pulling out all the stops in St. Louis. James Brown’s fourth-down stunner fueled Texas to a big upset in dramatic fashion. On fourth and inches you would expect a run up the middle or a sneak. Instead, a roll and wide open baby.

Let’s cue Brent Musburger…

The Big 12 champion Longhorns were over-matched by Penn State in the Fiesta Bowl, losing to the Nittany Lions 38-15. Nebraska still managed to play in one of the premier bowls, defeating Virginia Tech 41-21 in the Orange Bowl. Colorado went on to defeat Washington 33-21 in the Holiday Bowl. Iowa shutout Texas Tech 27-0 in the Alamo Bowl and BYU defeated Kansas State in the Cotton Bowl after being eventually not being included in the Big 12 expansion.

Not to be overlooked this season was TCU’s 20-7 victory at Oklahoma in the season opener. The Horned Frogs won just four games this season as a member of the WAC, one more than the Sooners. TCU could not follow up with a second straight win over a Big 12 school the next week when visiting No. 24 Kansas blew away the Horned Frogs, 52-17.

50 Years Ago

Of course, there was no Big 12 50 years ago. The Big 8 had served as the home for Big 12 members such as Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, Kansas and Kansas State and eventual Big 12 defectors Nebraska (Big Ten), Colorado (Pac 12) and Missouri (SEC). The Southwest Conference consisted of Texas, Baylor and Texas Tech as well as Texas A&M and TCU. Arkansas was also in the mix along with Rice and SMU. 

Ray Poage
Ray Poage and Texas were shut out by LSU in the
1962 Cotton Bowl. It was their only loss.

The Sooners took the Big 8 crown by going 7-0 in conference play but losses to Notre Dame and rival Texas, ranked second in the nation at the time, may have held the Sooners out of legitimate national title contention. Oklahoma lost to the Irish and Longhorns by a combined score of 22-13 in consecutive weeks. Oklahoma would end their season with a 17-0 loss to Alabama in the Orange Bowl. Quarterback Monte Deere passed for nine touchdowns and zero interceptions for a 206.1 passer rating and the running game was led by Joe Don Looney’s 852 rushing yards and nine touchdowns and Jim Grisham’s 711 yards and eight touchdowns.

Texas, meanwhile, was in a much more promising situation form start to finish. While the Sooners had to work to crack the AP rankings, Texas started the year ranked second in the country and never dropped out of the top five. Their victory over Oklahoma helped move the Longhorns in to first in the country but a 14-14 tie with Rice dropped Texas to fifth overall, and thus out of the running for a national championship. Texas would end their regular season with a 9-0-1 record but would end on a low note by losing to LSU in the Cotton Bowl, 13-0.

West Virginia was a member of the Southern Conference in 1962, playing against the likes of Richmond, William & Mary, Citadel, Furman, Virginia Military Institute and… fifth place Virginia Tech. The Mountaineers won a share of the Southern Conference that season with a 4-0 record in conference play, although Virginia Military Institute was 6-0 in conference play. West Virginia did have the better overall record, and played a decidedly tougher schedule with games against Penn State, Vanderbilt, Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Oregon State compared to Virginia Military’s schedule including Holy Cross, Davidson, and Villanova.

Kevin McGuire is the host of the No 2-Minute Warning Podcast. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Previously contributed to Host of the Locked On Nittany Lions Podcast. FWAA member and Philadelphia-area resident.