In the closing seconds in Stillwater on Saturday afternoon, Oklahoma State defensive back Kendal Daniels clinched the game with an acrobatic interception off of Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers for a 41-34 win. The Cowboys' win demonstrated to a national audience that Oklahoma State is ready to ascend to be one of the flagship programs in the Big XII conference.
Last summer, the announcement that Texas and Oklahoma would join the SEC. When you add that to the fact that earlier this summer it was announced that Southern Cal and UCLA would join the Big Ten. It seemed like a fait accompli that the Big XII was ready for a eulogy.
However, the conference has responded swiftly. They countered the defections of Texas and Oklahoma by expanding with the additions of UCF, Cincinnati, BYU, and Houston. With the defections of Southern Cal and UCLA, the Big XII has been aggressively looking to merge with the remaining Pac-12 schools.
With Texas and Oklahoma seemingly stumbling into the SEC, the future of the Big XII looks promising. So how did we get here?
Tumultuous Times at Texas and Oklahoma
Ever since the departure of Mack Brown, the Texas Longhorns' attempts to return to the nation's elite has fallen short. The various Sam Ehlinger "We're Back" proclamations can be identified over the tenures of Charlie Strong and Tom Herman but neither coach was able to turn the corner and achieve the standards Longhorn fans desire.
The Steve Sarkisian era has been filled with ups and downs during his short tenure, with the downs outweighing the ups despite that 49-0 smackdown versus Oklahoma this season. Those downs include being routed by Arkansas, and falling short against Oklahoma last season, losing to Oklahoma State in back-to-back seasons, and Alabama this season. Then you add in the head-scratching losses to Kansas last season and this year against Texas Tech, and you see why it's been more bad than good.
But despite those downs, as Texas takes aim for the SEC, it would be ill-advised to fire Sarkisian considering the momentum he is building in recruiting. If terminated by Texa,s he would be owed 70% of his base and supplementary salary. It isn't a staggering number, if he was fired by December 31 of this year, Sarkisian would be owed just over $15 million. But that's still a significant chunk of change to a program that's still paying Tom Herman.
Their Red River counterpart hasn't fared as well either.
Brent Venables hasn't had the best hands dealt to him after the late-night departure of Lincoln Riley to Southern Cal. It starts with the high-profile transfers of Spencer Rattler, Caleb Williams, and Mario Williams among others. Add in key injuries to Dillon Gabriel, a poor defense that has surrendered 46.8 points per game over its past four contests, and you see why it may take a minute to rebuild Oklahoma to the standards to which they have become accustomed.
At least Venables has found a good deal of success on the recruiting trail. And those commits all seem more than solid despite the struggles on the field by the Sooners.
Stumbling into the SEC is the last thing Oklahoma would like to do, and if Venables doesn't get the Sooners' ship headed in the right direction, they will be just another middle-of-the-pack team in the SEC.
The Remainder Rise to the Top
With so much uncertainty with each of the remaining school's futures and the stability of the league, it would have been easy to cave under the pressure. The non-Texas and Oklahoma programs in the league have always played with a chip on their shoulder. They've been long treated like little brothers by the two juggernauts in the conference and they have always had to scrap for what they get. But now, these programs that were once afterthoughts have risen to the top and need to be taken just as seriously as their more fabled conference mates.
The flag bearer for this group of teams has long been Oklahoma State. Under Mike Gundy, the Cowboys have gone 155-70 (94-57 in-conference) since he took over his alma mater in 2005, including seven double-digit win seasons since 2010. They played for the conference title last season (losing to Baylor), and also won a New Year's Six bowl. Even after a loss in overtime to TCU last week, the Cowboys are in position for another conference championship.
Baylor, who won the Big XII Championship last season, also won their New Year's Six bowl, and even though they are having a bit of a setback this season, they are still competitive and have a great coach in place in Dave Aranda, assuming that he doesn't get poached by a blue blood.
TCU, under first-year coach Sonny Dykes, has been one of the most surprising teams in the nation, reaching the top 10 in the nation behind a potent offense. The Horned Frogs possess one of the nation's elite playmakers in wide receiver Quentin Johnston and behind center, Max Duggan has really clicked with Dykes offense despite not starting the opener.
The Frogs had a Top 20 matchup against a reborn Kansas State team under Chris Klieman last night, and it ended up being a good one as expected. Despite missing Nebraska transfer Adrian Martinez for most of the game, the Wildcats pushed TCU but eventually fell to the Horned Frogs 38-28. TCU rallied from a 28-17 halftime deficit and was fueled by key performances from Duggan, Johnston, and running back Kendre Miller.
Matt Campbell and Iowa State will always be a threat and a well-coached team, and Kansas with Lance Leipold made it back to the Top 25. Despite the injury to Jalon Daniels (after which the team hasn't quite been the same), the Jayhawks have improved as much as any team in the nation over the past two seasons. If the brass in Lawrence can keep Leipold in town and he continues to turn this perennial doormat into a contender, you're looking at six above-average to very good programs right there. And that doesn't even count what Joey McGuire is doing at Texas Tech, where they've made big leaps in his first year, already have a signature win over Texas, and are making huge inroads on the recruiting trail.
Future Members Look to Make Additional Impact
The only program that has the cache and brand power out there that matches Texas and Oklahoma available is Notre Dame. And everyone knows that Notre Dame isn't going to go to Big XII. Because of that, when looking to add new members, commissioner Brett Yormark filled the voids left by the traditional powers in a creative - and forward-thinking - way. BYU, UCF, Houston, and Cincinnati each bring something unique to the table that could go a long way to solidifying the Big XII as a national player.
For recent dominance, the track records of UCF and Cincinnati speak for themselves. UCF and the NCAA recognize the Knights' Colley Matrix national championship designation from 2017 while last season, Cincinnati was the first Group of 5 team to make the College Football Playoff.
This year, UCF is 5-2 coming off of a loss this weekend to East Carolina. They have a reinvigorated Gus Malzahn leading the way and he is getting the most out of former Ole Miss quarterback John Rhys Plumlee.
Luke Fickell isn't resting on his laurels from last season. The Bearcats played Arkansas close to open the 2022 season, he has turned Cincinnati into a consistent winner. He's even chipping away at the herculean task of trying to break up the Ohio State monopoly on the state of Ohio for college football.
With Cincinnati and UCF meeting this week, it's a great opportunity for Big XII fans to tune in and see what their future conference members will look like.
Current independent BYU is the only Group of 5 team to win a national championship by a major selector. Historically speaking, BYU under LaVell Edwards was decades ahead of its time passing the football, which always gave traditional powers fits. And that DNA still has roots in the program, as one of Edwards' disciples, Kalani Sitake, is in his seventh season at the helm. Sitake guided BYU to back-to-back 10-win seasons in 2020 and 2021, even securing a Top 10 win versus Baylor at home this season, the first for BYU in three decades.
Houston went 12-2 last season, has won a New Year's Six bowl in the last decade, and gives the Big XII the No. 7 US Market to anchor its TV portfolio, a vital component in future TV negotiations. They've shown that they can get elite recruits in the recent past (five-star defensive tackle and future first-round draft pick Ed Oliver), and their offense under Dana Holgorsen has been prolific as well.
With these four in place, the Yormark and the rest of the group in the league offices have a great chance to strategically add more programs to bring the conference into the future and be able to compete with the Big 10 and SEC.
A Potential Pac-12 Merger?
The Southern Cal and UCLA departures leave a giant void for the Pac-12, as the options to attempt to keep the league together aren't there for the conference. As rumors continue to swirl that Oregon and Washington will end up in the Big Ten to support Southern Cal and UCLA, it feels it is only a matter of time before the Pac-12 gets cannibalized. The feeling most have if the Big Ten poaches Stanford, Cal, Oregon, and Washington is it leaves some marquee schools available for the Big XII to add to its conference.
Utah would be a major get for the Big XII, it not only adds a school that has a great recent history like Utah, but it brings the Holy War rivalry to the Big XII with BYU and the Salt Lake City market is attractive (it's larger than both Austin and Oklahoma City, the two markets they immediately lose with the departures of Texas and Oklahoma).
Arizona might not be a football power, but its status in basketball is a big attraction. Considering the Big XII has taken the last two NCAA Men's Basketball Championships, the addition of the Wildcats could make them a marquee conference alongside the Big 10 and ACC. Additionally, adding in the Phoenix television market which is projected to be a Top 10 market by 2030 gives the Big XII additional leverage in broadcasting negotiations.
Arizona State, Colorado, Washington State, and Oregon State are also great adds, giving the Big XII a national conference appeal as teams stretch from the Ohio Valley in West Virginia and Cincinnati to as far south in Florida with UCF to the center of the U.S. and reaching the Pacific Northwest.
While last year the sports writers had obituaries written for the Big XII, it was extremely premature. Now, with the Pac-12 being gut, it gives the Big XII an opportunity to form a super league that stretches from coast-to-coast.
Even if the Pac-12 stays intact, the Big XII's configuration for 2025 looks to be a strong conference that will consist of exciting brands of football. The opportunity has now presented itself for someone to carry the flag of the conference and with the quality teams present in the league, I quote the 1980's one hit wonder Timbuk 3 number one hit to describe the Big XII's future, "The future's so bright, I gotta wear shades."