The Big 12 is one of the NCAA powerhouses yet it suffers from an identity crisis across two major sporting events. In one, they are dismissed as an also-ran, a conference that does nothing to the bigger national picture. And in the other sport, it is helped by having a powerhouse team on a national stage.
Currently in College Football, Baylor is the only undefeated side in the Big 12, is ranked No3 in the nation behind Alabama (SEC), Florida State (ACC) and Ohio State (Big10). Baylor are playing a brand of attacking offensive football which made darlings out of the Oregon Ducks who are missing out on another National Championship tilt due to their loss at Stanford two weeks ago.
Baylor Bears average 61.2 points a game (1st in nation) but also concede only 17.4 (7th in nation); they score points for fun and teams find it hard to match them. They are led by coach Art Briles and quarterback Bryce Petty who has close to 3000 yards and 24 touchdowns. Admittedly, these numbers do not match say Johnny Manziel nor Jameis Winston (Flordia State) but they have not been helped by their schedule.
The Big 12 unlike the Big 10, SEC and Pac 12 is not split into divisions, every team plays each other once in the season and they do not have a Big 12 championship game between the top two teams, meaning you have to beat everyone and hope that everyone else messes up. Baylor back ended their schedule meaning they have three games left starting with at Oklahoma State who are ranked No10 nationally and are 9-1. A win against them will make Baylor the No 3 side in the nation and the team that steps in should the Crimson Tide or Seminoles lose between now and the end of the season.
This would be rich reward for Briles who has made some noise in the Big 12 without much national recognition apart from getting Robert Griffin III the Heisman two years ago. They have been consistent, the scheme works and makes stars of their young students. After the OK State road trip they are at TCU who are currently 4-7 and then a home game to Texas which will end the regular season.
Whereas, Baylor are struggling for recognition, you look at a conference opponent in another sport that makes noise regularly year-in, year-out. Led by the formidable Kansas Jayhawks, the Big 12 in College Basketball is rightly one of the hotbeds of the national conscious of the sport. Bill Self is chasing his 10th consecutive conference title in Lawrence and after defeating Duke last Tuesday by 11 points and with the expected No.1 player in the country - Andrew Wiggins - the expectation for that banner is high.
However, the other players in the Big 12 also play a big part. Oklahoma State have Marcus Smart returning when it was thought he would leave for the NBA which will benefit them hugely. Kansas State are always a solid exponent of conference play as well as the Texas Longhorns and Oklahoma Sooners. However, the biggest surprise may well come from Iowa State.
The Cyclones are one of those wonderful David stories, as a team that surpasses expectations thanks to the development of a program under a young unheralded coach. In this case Fred Hoiberg, who was highly ridiculed when given the job after the retirement of his father, Ames four years ago. Fred has overcome the shouts and jeers of nepotism to make a name for himself with the small program by taking them to the tournament last year and defeating Notre Dame in the first round.
The Cyclones also were one of the teams to give Kansas a real scare last year, with the Jayhawks only coming through in overtime on the road. This past weekend they recorded a 77-70 win over #7 ranked Michigan who reached the Final Four last year, this is probably the biggest win of Hoiberg's reign and will make people notice of their intention to be a Top 25 side in the nation.
A young coach doing great things with an unfancied unattractive side reminds you of Butler and Brad Stevens - yet Iowa State are helped by being part of one of the big noises in College Basketball.