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After three weeks of play and rumors of destruction, is the Big 12 America's top league?
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden on twitter)
Off the field, the Big 12 is currently the ugly ducking of the BCS litter as four of its power teams — Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech — appear to be heading West to the Pac-12.
But on the field, Big 12 teams are forcing college football to respect the conference’s swan song.
The SEC currently holds five consecutive BCS national championships, but if the streak is going to end in 2011, it appears the Big 12 will be the likely culprit. That is because, through three weeks of play — and copious hours of expansion talk — the Big 12 is ironically college football's best conference.
One could make the case that South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi State, Kentucky and Ole Miss are not as good as expected. Tennessee, Arkansas, LSU and Alabama are playing exactly as expected. Florida and Vanderbilt are slightly better, while Auburn should be winless through three games.
While the league may be on the verge of utter and permanent destruction, the Big 12 owns the best overall record of any conference in college football at 23-2. The only two losses by the entire league have been Kansas falling at the hands of 3-0 Georgia Tech in Atlanta and Missouri’s overtime heartbreaker in the desert against 2–1 Arizona State.
Oklahoma owns the single best victory by any program in the nation after walking away from Doak Campbell Stadium with a 23-13 win over No. 5 Florida State. The Sooners defense was the surprise of the game as the Crimson and Cream soldified themselves as the best team in the nation.
The Big 12 also claims more “BCS” wins than any of the power conferences (counting Notre Dame, Boise State, TCU and BYU as “BCS.”) The heartland conglomerate has a sterling 7-2 mark against fellow “BCS” competition with road wins over UCLA (Texas), UConn (Iowa State) and Florida State (Oklahoma) to go with home wins over Arizona (Oklahoma State), TCU (Baylor), Iowa (Iowa State) and BYU (Texas).
For the record, the Big Ten is 6-6, the ACC is 5-5, the Pac-12 is 5-6, the SEC is 4-4 and the crumbling Big East is 3-6 in such games.
The SEC is still the 800-pound gorilla that is only gaining weight with the addition of Texas A&M. LSU and Alabama are both national title contenders with arguably the best two defenses in the nation. And LSU also owns the second-best win of the year (Oregon, Week 1).
But right now, the Big 12 has performed like the stronger league. Oklahoma (1), Oklahoma State (7), Texas A&M (8), Baylor (17) and Texas (19) are all ranked in the top 20 and spearhead a league that also includes a much improved Texas Tech squad, a very talented Missouri team and an Iowa State team with upset wins over the Big Ten and Big East.
Oklahoma State is the No. 2-ranked offense in the nation. Texas Tech is No. 3, Baylor is No. 4, Missouri is No. 12, Texas A&M is No. 18 and Oklahoma is No. 19.
Texas Tech (No. 2), Oklahoma State (No. 3) and Baylor (No. 6) are three of the top six scoring teams in the nation. The Pokes lead the nation in passing at over 408 yards per game with four other Big 12 teams are ranked in the top 20 nationally in passing offense.
And the star power in this league is nothing short of spectacular.
Brandon Weeden, Robert Griffin III and Seth Doege are Nos. 2, 3, and 5 nationally in total offense. Ryan Tannehill (No. 22), James Franklin (No. 24) and Landry Jones (No. 25) round out the Top 25 nationally in total offense.
Texas Tech’s Darrin Moore and Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles are tied for second nationally with 10.5 receptions per game, while Baylor’s Kendall Wright is fifth and Okie State’s Justin Blackmon is eighth nationally in catches per game. The Biletnikoff Award isn’t likely to leave the Big 12 after Blackmon claimed the honor in 2010. In fact, the Big 12 has won three of the last four such awards.
Texas A&M’s Cyrus Gray is fifth in the nation in scoring at 15 points per game and Oklahoma State’s Joseph Randle is seventh after scoring seven times in three games.
Griffin III is arguably the most valuable player in the nation and is the most dynamic quarterback in this country — no offense, Michael Vick. Jones might be the front-runner for the Heisman. And to top it all off, the NCAA’s single-game rushing leader in 2011 is Mizzou’s Henry Josey after he rushed for 263 yards this weekend.
In the past, when conferences crumble or disband, it's normally a result of poor play, low revenue ceilings and subsequent profit loss. This is certainly not the case with the Big 12. The SEC is the champion until proven otherwise, and there is still loads of work left to be done by all parties involved, but three weeks into the season, the Big 12 is the best conference in football.
At least the Big 12 is going out on a high note.
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