In July of 2021, news broke of ESPN’s plan for Texas and Oklahoma to leave the Big 12 and join the SEC. While any logical person knew that Bob Bowlsby and Jamie Pollard were built to lead the conference through those difficult times, talking heads still immediately began giving their predictions of when the Big 12 would be consumed by the AAC. Yes, the same AAC that had to raid Conference USA to remain a league.
No matter what, when you lose teams it hurts. Or does it? There’s no denying that Oklahoma has historically been the best program in Big 12 history. They’ve won more conference titles than any school in the country, produced five Heismans, and won seven national titles. The nasty truth for the historic juggernaut however is that their days at the top were numbered. Since Mike Stoops stepped down Oklahoma has simply not been the same. Lincoln Riley started his career with three straight bowl losses before lucking out and beating an overhyped Florida team last season. For comparison, it only took Matt Campbell one bowl to get his first win, and Kansas has not lost a bowl in the five years Riley has had the keys to OU football.
It isn’t just bowls though. All things point to OU not winning the regular season conference title for the second year in a row. How did such a historic program take such a steep turn?
Obviously when a household name like Ron Stoop’s retires, it’s impossible to expect a 33-year-old coach to fill his shoes. For a second though it appeared Lincoln Riley had done just that though. We’ve learned since then that he had not.
The ugly truth for Lincoln is that he did not make the CFP each of his first three years, the QB’s handed to him by better coaches did. Spencer Rattler’s steady decline which eventually led to his benching, and Caleb Williams’ abysmal play since his fluky Texas performance has confirmed what we all suspected. Lincoln Riley cannot develop his own QBs. The reality is in today’s game you can’t win a conference without a good QB. In order to take the next step, Oklahoma fans need to accept that unless Joe Castiglione mans up like Chris Del Conte would and fires Lincoln Riley for his three-loss seasons, Oklahoma football will never be on top of a conference again.
So how is a conference losing its two winningest programs actually a good thing?
It’s pretty simple, really. Living in the past is how programs end up like Nebraska. The reality is Texas has been the 6th-8th best program since 2013, and Oklahoma, while not quite there, is trending to be in tier B behind Iowa State, Oklahoma State, and Baylor by 2023. Ask yourself this. If in 2016 West Virginia and Texas Tech announced they were leaving and the Big 12 countered by adding LSU (#5 ranked team), Washington (#13 ranked team), Alabama (other 2017 national champs), and Oregon (#24 ranked team) would you be worried? Absolutely not so why would you worry about replacing Oklahoma and Texas with Cincinnati, BYU, UCF, and Houston? The Big 12 is now stronger than ever in not just football and basketball, but also cross country and track.
Sure the financial adjustment may take some time, but like Mother Theresa said, “Money is the root of all evil. Those who find value in other things will prosper, and those who chase it will be bottom feeders in the SEC.”
For all I care, Oklahoma and Texas can chase the money and go 7-5 in the SEC all they want. For me though, I’m gonna choose to continue to watch the most talented and entertaining league college sports have to offer.