After non-conference play finished in 2008, the Big 12 rolled into conference play with great records and as such, high rankings; the media was hyping Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy, Chase Daniel, and their respective teams to no end. Even Oklahoma State was getting some heavy hype for its offensive firepower. Chase Daniel was considered the early Heisman frontrunner and his offense was considered one of the best, if not the best offense in the nation and Missouri, Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State rolled into Big 12 play with nice, undefeated records, featuring high-scoring blowout after blowout. With each team putting up 40 to 60 points a week, it looked to most observers (and poll voters) that the Big 12 offenses were unstoppable.
That is five teams that started conference play with perfect records; OU, Texas, and Missouri were considered top 10 teams, and Texas Tech was ranked around the top 10 as well. Even Oklahoma State found its way in the top 20. With all these nice records and only intra-conference play left, there was seemingly a Big 12 showdown between two top 10 teams every week. With so many teams ranked so highly, people began to call the Big 12 the toughest league in college football, better even than the vaunted SEC. While not playing each other, these five teams put up tons and tons of points, racking up wins along the way and quickly ascending up the rankings. So at one point, Oklahoma was considered the 2nd best team in the nation, Missouri the 3rd, Texas the 5th, Texas Tech the 11th, and Oklahoma State the 19th.
Then came the Oklahoma State's showdown with Mizzou. Chase Daniel and his Tigers were ranked 3rd in the nation and seen as national title contenders, so they were expected to dispose of the Cowboys. When the Cowboys upset the Tigers, pollsters hastened to christen the Cowboys a top-10 team; after all, hadn't they just beaten the 3rd best team in the nation and weren't they still undefeated? When 5th ranked Texas beat top ranked Oklahoma in the now infamous "45-35" game, pollsters immediately awarded Texas the top ranking. The following week, they proceeded to play Missouri, still considered a top 10 team, despite its loss to Oklahoma State. Texas murdered Missouri, and Colt McCoy looked perfect doing it, casting him to the forefront of the Heisman race.
Meanwhile, Oklahoma State was still taking care of business against the dregs of the Big 12 and carried an undefeated record and a top 10 ranking into their showdown with Texas. When Texas won a close battle, it looked as if Texas had just faced an absolute murderer's row of opponents; it had just beaten 3 top 10 teams, two by double digits, and one in a huge blowout. Colt McCoy seemed a lock to win the Heisman, and Texas only had to take care of one more undefeated top 10 Big 12 opponent - Texas Tech, which had previously been feasting on the worst Big 12 teams, took an overtime win against Nebraska, but gained some credibility in a blowout of Kansas.
When Texas Tech, undefeated, took that last second victory against the previously undefeated Longhorns (who had just beaten 3 top 10 teams), it looked as if TTU was the best team in college football. The following week, they blew out Oklahoma State (still considered a top 10 team) to further confirm that in the eyes of pollsters. With all of these undefeated or 1-loss teams staying in the top 10, the Big 12 looked unbelievably strong. The Big 12 continued in this manner until the end of the regular season; combine these rankings with great, theatric games (Texas Tech vs. Texas) or high-scoring blowouts (Oklahoma vs. Texas Tech), and it looked like this league was too good to be true.
Oklahoma, Texas, and Texas Tech had lost only to each other and beaten everyone else on their schedules rather convincingly. Oklahoma State had lost to the three aforementioned teams, but as many pollsters thought, they were the top 3 teams in the country, so who wouldn't lose to them? Having beaten Missouri (a win that was still considered big, despite Missouri's absolute failure to beat a single decent team), they were estimated as a top 15 to top 10 team. All of these teams had put up points galore, and they were favorites in all of their bowl matchups; Oklahoma's point-a-minute offense was supposed to power past Florida, Texas was supposed to crush "pathetic, always-overrated" Ohio State, Texas Tech was supposed to roll over Ole Miss, Oklahoma State was supposed to pass and run all over Oregon, a "weak, Pac-10" team.
Fast forward to the end of bowl season; Texas Tech had been embarassed by Ole Miss, Oklahoma State had been run all over by a much more physical Oregon team, Oklahoma's "best in NCAA history" offense had put up a mere 14 points against Florida, and Texas had scraped out a very close 3-point victory over Ohio State, that program known for showing up ready to play in big-time games. Some people began to see that, maybe, just maybe this conference had not deserved its very high rankings during the regular season - others came up with excuse after excuse, saying that the Big 12 teams all earned their rankings by playing each other in the toughest conference.
I did a lot of recapping of the season, but I feel like it was necessary. Now I'm going to analyze why the Big 12 was rated so highly for so much time - this will be the short part of my article. When 5 teams in a conference roll into conference play with nice unbeaten, 4-0, records, it looks very nice, especially when they do it by putting up 50 points a game. But take a look at who these teams beat.
Texas' non-conference schedule was a joke, and Texas put up 50 points a game in destroying the likes of Rice, Florida Atlantic, UTEP, and Arkansas... hardly quality competition.
Missouri crushed Buffalo, Southeast Missouri State, Nevada, and Illinois, putting up no less than 42 points in any game. While the Illinois win looked good (they were returning from a Rose Bowl appearance); Illinois' mediocrity (actually worse than mediocrity) was exposed in a 5-7 season. In other words, Missouri beat nobody, but climbed the polls.
Oklahoma State rolled past Washington State, Houston, Missouri State, and Troy; yet another joke of a schedule. Washington State was the only BCS conference team there, and we all know how their season turned out. OSU put up 50+ points in three of these games.
Texas Tech was the worst offender of all; they posted blowout after blowout over Nevada, Massachusetts (have you ever even heard of them?), SMU (which won one game), and Eastern Washington. EWU and UMass were FCS schools, and TTU posted zero wins over BCS conference competition in out-of-conference play.
Oklahoma was the only Big 12 school that played a single decent opponent outside of its own conference. While it posted 50+ point blowouts over Chattannooga and Washington (two embarassments of teams), it also played two legitimately tough opponents. In another 50 point effort, they disposed of future Big East champs Cincinnati (though it should be noted Cincy was the worst of the BCS conference champs; Hawaii gave them a run for their money), as well as top 10 finisher TCU. I won't discredit OU's non-conference schedule, but the rest of the conference's was a joke.
With competition like that, it isn't hard to go undefeated; these are some of the worst non-conference schedules in the nation (except for OU's). However, wins over these opponents catapulted Big 12 teams into the rankings and when they lost only to each other, they maintained high rankings, creating one of the most overrated conferences in recent memory. The outright cupcakery of their scheduling by far surpassed the SEC, which is usually the target for people who hate weak non-conference schedules; at least SEC teams usually play 1 or 2 good BCS-conference teams in addition to the FCS "gimme" games.
Big 12 teams took full advantage of these games, going undefeated and putting up tons and tons of points; pollsters, many of whom don't even watch most games, love points and undefeated teams, and as such rank high-scoring teams very highly. Doesn't a 69-17 victory by a Big 12 team over a weak team look a lot nicer than a 35-7 victory by, say, an ACC or SEC team over the same kind of riffraff opponent? I mean, doesn't your offense have to be just astoundingly good to put up 52 points on Southeast Missouri State? My point is that the Big 12 and its high-scoring offenses gain this reputation by destroying patsies outside of their conference and keeping games high-scoring in their own conference, which usually has very weak defenses. It is no coincidence that, when faced with good out-of-conference opposition in the bowl games, Big 12 offenses failed to put up as many points, and most of the time, the "high-octane" offenses couldn't offset the lack of defense, exposing the conference as overrated.
I know I'm going to take a lot of heat for this one; and I can already see the excuses coming for Big 12 losses, or the many reaosons why the Big 12 is great and I'm an idiot. But hopefully some people realize that high-scoring offenses and undefeated records against creampuffs do not equate to good football.