A response to this post on Wednesday about the Big 12 title race.
In my opinion this is the most fascinating league in the country and represents most of what college football gets right. The round robin scheduling makes for a tough path to the BCS Title, but it crowns a legitimate league champion and represents a better entertainment product for the fan by providing more contested games.
However, escaping league play without a loss or two will be very difficult which leaves teams at the mercy of a subjective system. As it happens though, I recall Tommy Tuberville crying about his 2003 undefeated Auburn Tigers being left out and SEC coaches openly questioning the system and whether an SEC squad could ever hope to even compete for a title against teams like USC who played easier schedules. We saw how that worked out.
Legacy programs like OU and Texas usually get the benefit of the doubt from voters, but more wins like TCU, OSU, and WVU have provided recently (21-19 over Wisconsin, 41-38 over Stanford, 70-33 over Clemson) or a big win over an SEC power and public opinion towards the conference will change to the point that an 11-1 OSU might get more credit as well.
The conference is insanely deep this year, and I would be wary of playing in any road environment besides Lawrence, Kansas. In my mind the only real contenders to the league crown are Texas, KSU, TCU, WVU, and OU. Everyone else is missing a QB (OSU), a defense (Tech), or both (Kansas). I like Rhoads' ISU to surprise people with a rise towards the top of the middle but they won't be contending for the title.
People seem quick to dismiss Snyder's wizardry from last year but KSU is actually fielding one of the strongest teams in the conference this year. If they can replace their experienced, if unathletic, offensive line departures and keep the seemingly indestructible Collin Klein healthy they have some emerging weapons on offense and a solid defense.
TCU is fielding a very young back 7, and although they have a very good DL and system, there will be growing pains for that young secondary trying to corral the Big 12's passing attacks. On offense, they had 3 700 yard backs last year, 2 of which return. When an offense runs the ball no matter who's in the game I become suspicious that the line is the real star, and this one loses 3 starters and both tackles.
WVU is the mirror image of an offense Texas fans should be familiar with, the 2008 Colt McCoy-led unit. Tavon Austin is probably the most dangerous possession receiver in the country and Stedman Bailey is an excellent outside option. Geno Smith is McCoy-esque in how he combines some "escapability" with a thorough command of the offense and great accuracy.
The problem is that there are no Brian Orakpos or Will Muschamps on the defensive side of the ball. They have a smallish front that will be very vulnerable to the league's better running games, which could keep Holgorsen's offense off the field. Playing at Texas seems like a likely loss while trips to Lubbock, Stillwater, and Ames may prove trickier than a Big East road schedule.
OU is clearly the class of the league and I believe Mike Stoops will have the defense operating at a level beyond what anyone besides Texas can match in the conference. If anyone is likely to survive the Round-Robin scheduling with only 1 loss or less, it's the Sooners.
They have questions as well though. Is the leadership on this team strong enough to avoid let-down performances like the Tech game last year? Have they developed a go-to offensive feature to replace Ryan Broyles? Will their injury-riddled offensive line have the depth and physicality to bring back the running game that was missing last season?
Barring the development of a power-running game or the emergence of a true star receiver in Norman, this conference does indeed lack a frontrunner to run the table and compete nationally. USC and Florida State are 2 teams that have a good chance to go undefeated and media voters will look for any excuse to give USC the chance to challenge the SEC's hegemony. The chances for Oklahoma or the Big 12 champion to get a title shot in this atmosphere aren't great.
But we know OU isn't going anywhere, Texas is back on the rise, and programs like Baylor, Kansas St, West Virginia, OSU, and TCU are expanding their facilities and fielding contending teams. In the upcoming 4-team playoff format, I think you'll see Big 12 teams in the national title contention on a yearly basis.