As little as two weeks into the 2016 season, the Big 12 had lost enough non conference games to kiss its College Football Playoff chances good-bye. Between Stanford, Houston, Central Michigan, Iowa, Ohio and Arkansas it was going to be a season long uphill battle to gain respectability back.
Off the playing field the heartland’s Power Five conference had to endure the humiliation of a sexual assault scandal at Baylor. Around the same time in the Spring, league officials initiated a months long dog and pony show themed realignment. To close out the 2016 calendar year, the graphic video of a 2014 misdemeanor battery charge (later to be dropped via plea deal) of star tailback Joe Mixon of the league’s conference champion, Oklahoma was made public.
The Big 12 has been on a stretch of poor bowl performances as a conference in recent history with 3-3 (2013), 2-5 (2014) and 3-4 (last year) records. On the dawn of the 2016 edition of bowl season the conference feels like it sits at a historic crossroads, not only for this year but for many years to come.
Good news: in the sports industry recency syndrome reigns king.
For as much as the conference has been railed on in the past (and rightly so) for their sub-par bowl showing in recent years, if there was any year to try to reverse that tune with a solid showing, it would be now. It would be highly unlikely that the conference runs the table in 2016, but a 5-1 or 4-2 performance would go a long way in getting the public tone of this conference trending up. The opportunity is there to settle it on the field, but will the conference seize that opportunity?
Here is how the conference can jump-start their 2017 impression in the 2016 edition of Bowl season:
- Cactus Bowl – For a team that started 6-0 and finished 0-6, Baylor would appear to be mismatched against the always solid nationally recognized Cinderella Boise State. Though the NCAA has cleared the old staff to coach the bowl game, certainly many Bears want to be projecting their best efforts knowing the new skipper Matt Rhule’s only duty is to evaluate on field talent from the booth in Phoenix. Perhaps a renewed effort by the talented Bears roster will be enough to rope the Broncos.
- Russell Athletic Bowl – Many thought Dana Holgorsen could never get beyond an eight win mark in the Big 12, but he led his Mountaineers to a 10-2 regular season with one of his most balanced teams ever. The ACC could make a case for third best conference in 2016, so a win for WVU over that league especially a college football marquee name like Miami, in their home state would go a long ways in a state they like to recruit.
- Texas Bowl – Head Coach Bill Snyder marked his 25th season in Manhattan as well as his 200th career win. What other first came this year for the Hall of Fame coach? His historically youngest roster ever. The Wildcats face a Texas A&M team with an identical 8-4 record that fell far from lofty expectations. Though the game is in the Aggies’ backyard, this match-up looks like the classic one wants to be there and the other does not. Wildcats notching a win over an SEC West team can go a long way for so many returning starters in 2017, perhaps 10 wins and conference title aspirations.
- Alamo Bowl – The last time Oklahoma State faced a former Big 12 opponent in a Texas-based bowl, they frittered away a lead late to the Missouri Tigers. With the Alamo Bowl developing a reputation in recent years as a great game, on paper expect more of the same. The Buffaloes are the surprise feel good story of 2016. Look for quarterback Mason Rudolph, wide-outs Marcell Ateman, James Washington and running back Justice Hill to make sure they give the stingy Buffs defense their best shot now that Broyle’s award finalist and D-coordinator Jim Leavitt left for Oregon.
- Liberty Bowl – Even though the SEC East was the only faction of a conference that struggled for credibility more so than the Big 12 this season, the Georgia Bulldogs are still a tough match-up for Gary Patterson’s Horned Frogs. As the story is with most 6-6 teams, TCU has struggled to consistently string any sort of positives together for more than back to back performances. With a month off, you know Patterson has been trying to tighten up loose screws on the 74th nationally ranked defense full of Sophomores and Juniors to continue to suppress the Bulldog’s 105th nationally ranked scoring offense to be next year’s backbone.
- Sugar Bowl – Bob Stoops’ Oklahoma Sooners face another SEC West opponent in the Auburn Tigers. There is no other coach in this conference as outspoken as Bob Stoops when it comes to the skepticism of the overindulgence for anything out of that division. Expect Bob to have his crew lead by Heisman finalists Baker Mayfield and Dede Westbrook motivated to put up points against the War Eagle defense. The real question will be if brother Mike Stoops will be able to keep up with offensive guru Gus Malzahn? Mayfield can jump-start his 2017 Heisman campaign in New Orleans with a good game.