For more than a decade now, sports journalists and Texas dads have mulled and turned and worried over the same question: Is the Big 12 Football Conference dying a slow, painful death before our very eyes? The question began in earnest in 2011, when both Nebraska and Colorado left (for the Big Ten and Pac-10 respectively) and Texas A&M and Missouri announced that they would be going to the SEC. Down four teams, the Big 12 backfilled with two teams from less competitive conferences: West Virginia University from the Big East and Texas Christian University from the Mountain West.
For seven years, things looked bad. With only 10 schools, the two divisions were combined and the Championship Game was killed. Without a division championship game, the best Big 12 teams played one fewer game than other conferences, which made them less attractive in the playoff system. The conference championship game eventually came back thanks to an NCAA rule change in 2017, and Oklahoma won four straight conference titles. That's not the sign of a competitive conference, but at least the constant questioning died down for a few years. The games were better. The teams looked stronger. Maybe, it would be fine. But with Oklahoma (the only Big 12 team to produce a bunch of NFL quarterbacks) and Texas (somehow a tentpole with the last national title in 2004) announced that they would leave for the SEC by 2025, the question began to buzz again. Without the "big" teams—in money if not talent or record—what happens to the Big 12?
This weekend, Texas Christian University made its own case to become the Big 12's new tentpole team by beating undefeated No. 2 Michigan 51-45 in the Fiesta Bowl. They are the first Big 12 team to go to the National Championship game since the playoff system was introduced. Since we cannot in good conscience simply allow things to happen in college football without turning them into forced projections of the future, we must ask a new question: Is the Big 12 back, baby?
Because it seems like the Big 12 is back. The TCU-Michigan game was the highest-scoring in Fiesta Bowl history. The third quarter alone had a combined 44 points scored, including a 76-yard touchdown.
Hell yeah! That's the stuff we like. SEC Championships with defenses like brick walls shutting down runs and refusing to allow teams to score 50 points in the second half? What is this, the NFL? That's not what we want! We want drama! We want glory! We want a new conference leader with a chip on their shoulder from their 2010 undefeated season, in which Auburn was named national champion, to rally the Big 12 from its slumber and into a bright, shiny future.
Is the Big 12 really back? I guess we'll find out when TCU plays Georgia in the National Championship Game on Jan. 9. But for now, the answer is a clear, beautiful "maybe."