The Big 12 appeared to have a tumultuous start to the offseason as it saw two of its members -– Missouri and Texas A&M –- bolt to the SEC, which came on the heels of Nebraska's departure for the Big Ten last season.
There were rumors of a complete dissolution of the conference, but as the college football season quickly approaches, some might even say that the Big 12 is stronger than it ever was.
BIG 12 — Odds to Win
West Virginia 6-1
Kansas State 12-1
Oklahoma State 18-1
Texas Tech 30-1
Iowa State 65-1
Clearly, the Tigers and Aggies will be missed. It will surely be odd to know that Texas and Texas A&M might not be facing off as much as they have in the past. Even so, the Big 12 has rallied with the addition of West Virginia, who won the Big East last season and crushed Clemson in record-setting fashion in the Orange Bowl, and TCU, who won the Rose Bowl in 2011. The good news didn't end there, as the conference also came to an incredible $1.3 billion agreement with ESPN.
For many years, the Big 12 has been a two-horse race between Texas and Oklahoma, but the mood is quite different these days. The Sooners are still elite, although some consider them a notch below the other BCS Championship contenders. Meanwhile, Texas is still rebuilding and there are questions galore regarding Mack Brown's young squad. And even as we examine the two biggest brands in the Big 12, it's actually the Oklahoma State Cowboys who won their first Big 12 title and their first ever BCS bowl (Fiesta Bowl). Beyond that, there's the newbies in TCU and West Virginia, who will both be wild cards.
Looking from the bottom up, this conference appears to have plenty of depth. Kansas is not a good program right now, but Charlie Weis is taking over, which means better days should be ahead. Iowa State has been climbing the totem pole during the Paul Rhodes tenure, and after wins against Texas Tech and Oklahoma State last season, this team is no longer the piñata of the conference and is making an ascent. Also, don't overlook Kansas State, which should be ranked in the Top 25 to start the season, and Baylor, which is a good up-and-coming program.
But the Big 12 should be decided based on what Oklahoma does or doesn't do. With Landry Jones back at quarterback, the Sooners should have one of the best quarterbacks in the nation. They're loaded with quality running backs, and a good offensive line should help keep the pressure off his shoulders. But the real difference between the Sooners and everyone else in this conference could be their defense. With Mike Stoops back running the show, his unit will be legit while everyone other than Texas –- and maybe TCU -– has some serious questions to answer.
The Longhorns may be second in line to win this conference according to the odds but their offense will have to grow up in a hurry if that's the case. Their defense can play but their offense –- particularly at quarterback -– has a lot to prove.
West Virginia could be the second-best team in the conference but they're transferring from the Big East, which is considered to be the weakest of the BCS conferences. Few people believe the Mountaineers would have been in the BCS last season had they played in the Big 12 for a full season. Even so, Geno Smith is one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and head coach Dana Holgerson used to coach in the Big 12. That means he's familiar with the conference and, given his team's lethal aerial attack, they should fit right into their new setting.
Meanwhile, some people feel TCU could be a sneaky conference contender, but a tough schedule will likely do them in. They'll only have four conference home games compared to five away, which includes a road trip to Darrell K. Royal Stadium to fill Texas A&M's role in the Thanksgiving game with Texas.
The bottom line in the Big 12 -– and in football in general -– is that you need a good quarterback to win. Oklahoma has the best quarterback in the conference as well as the best overall team. The Big 12 will be their's to lose in 2012, but with so much depth in the conference the race will be fun to watch.