College conferences have a lot of similarities to middle school cafeterias if you really think about it. The Big Ten and SEC can be seen as the rich, popular kids with all the newest apparel while the ACC, Big 12 and Pac 12 are all cool enough to avoid the table where spitballs are shot across the lunch trays.
Yet, within each conference — or lunch table in this analogy — there’s the leader of the group that everybody is trying their darndest to call their best friend. In the SEC, it’s Alabama and Georiga, two national football powers who have combined to win nine national titles since 2009. In the Big Ten, it’s Ohio State and Michigan, two historic programs that bring a bravado about them that is hard to match. In the ACC, historically, it’s Florida State or, maybe, Virginia Tech, and Miami brings an exciting, must-hear story to lunch each day. Yet, Clemson has worked their way to the top of the lunch table clique, but we’ll see if they get to stay there. In the Pac-12, USC and Oregon have controlled their own table, but USC — and UCLA — recently accepted an invite to the Big Ten’s table, probably because of their beach houses, which will be great fun in the winter months. Meanwhile, Texas and Oklahoma have long been the leaders of the Big 12’s table, but they’re now leaving to go to the brashest table, the SEC, where they hope to fit in with some of their old friends, Texas A&M, Missouri and Arkansas.
Being the popular kid in one of college football’s Power 5 conferences doesn’t guarantee wins, always. Simply, ask Texas, who has just one double-digit win since the 2009 season and no conference titles. But for others, like Oklahoma, it can. The Sooners have won 14 of the 27 possible Big 12 titles — including six straight from 2015-20 — since the league was founded in 1997.
But no longer is the Big 12’s table going to be ruled by the Longhorns and Sooners, given the announcement from the SEC and Big 12 that an agreement had been reached for the two members to join the SEC in 2024, a year earlier than, publicly, anticipated by the two leagues.
Statement from @SEC Commissioner @GregSankey on Oklahoma and Texas membership transition: pic.twitter.com/qZZI6YaRJp
— Southeastern Conference (@SEC) February 10, 2023
The 2023 season marks an odd period in the Big 12’s history with four new members — BYU, Central Florida, Cincinnati and Houston — joining the league a year before their originally anticipated welcome, much to the dismay of Texas and Oklahoma.
The Longhorns and Sooners, reportedly, are not pleased that the four new members are joining the league before their exit. And they might be more frustrated that the league scheduled games between the new members and themselves. Oklahoma’s first Big 12 game in 2023 is at Cincinnati and their final road game as a Big 12 member is at BYU. Texas also gets to play BYU, but the game is at DKR-Texas Memorial Stadium. The Longhorns also renew an old Southwest Conference game at Houston on Oct. 21.
With Oklahoma and Texas agreeing to forfeit $100 million dollars in revenue to join the SEC in 2024, the Big 12 needs a new leader of their school lunch table. Or maybe a new villain?
What makes the idea of the new Big 12 enthralling is that the league is wide-open, unlike the current outlook of the expanded SEC, Big Ten, new-look Pac-12 and ACC. There’s no longer a recruiting superpower in the Big 12 — in the Rivals era (2002-present) Texas and Oklahoma have been the No. 1 and No. 2 ranked recruiting classes all but three times. And every season since 2008. So who is going to turn into the emerging power in the Big 12?
Kansas State and Baylor have won the last two league titles in thrilling fashion, and each is tied with Texas for the second most conference championships, three. TCU, though, secured a bid in the College Football Playoff in 2022-23 after completing an undefeated regular season. The Horned Frogs later played for the national title game against Georiga, who stomped TCU 65-7, giving the Bulldogs back-to-back national titles. Oklahoma State has been one of the most consistent programs in the Big 12 over the past 15 years under head coach Mike Gundy. Upstarts Texas Tech and Kansas had better seasons in 2022 than both anticipated by playing in a bowl game under a first or second-year head coach. At Iowa State, Matt Campbell has helped make the Cyclones a tough opponent, even if they went just 4-8 overall in the 2022 season. It was only a couple of years ago that Iowa State played Oklahoma for a league title and finished the season ranked in the top 10 of the polls.
Three of the four new members — Cincinnati, Houston and UCF — are in strong recruiting territories, but also have to compete against stronger in-state programs for talent. Though, moving to a Power 5 conference could help the new kids in the Big 12 land more highly touted prospects. And BYU has a unique brand that is attractive for many fans to follow across the country, hence making it more attractive to some recruits.
Cincinnati played in the four-team CFP in 2020-21, losing to Alabama in the semifinals, but the Bearcats were the first — and only — Group of 5 conference member to qualify for the playoff. UCF is led by former Auburn head coach, Gus Malzhan, who had Auburn seconds away from the national title in 2013-14. The Knights also went undefeated in 2017 and lost just one game in 2018, vs. LSU in the Fiesta Bowl. BYU has gone to a bowl game every season since 2018 under head coach Kalani Sitake, including an 11-win 2020 season and 10 wins in the 2021 season. Houston went 12-2 in the American in 2021 and has been ranked in the AP poll in five of the last eight seasons.
The 12-team College Football Playoff, starting in the 2024-25 season, all but assures the Big 12 will have at least one conference member playing for a national championship annually given that the six highest-ranked conference champions will receive a bid to the expanded field.
So, the Big 12’s lunch table might not have as many fancy-made lunches, shiny new sneakers and extra chocolate-covered chocolate chip cookies to chomp on for a lunchtime dessert as the SEC and Big Ten will in 2024, the Big 12’s lunch table could have a new clique leader every season who brings confetti cookies to the league come College Football Playoff time.
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