The Congrove Computer Rankings show the Big 12 to be the toughest in the nation in 2012 and, perhaps, the most competitive. Seven teams will begin the season with power ratings between 81.04 and 87.86 with Oklahoma ultimately prevailing and advancing to the BCS Championship game with an 11-1 record to face an undefeated Virginia Tech.
Oklahoma is the projected winner by 4.40 points.
The Hokies haven't played in the championship game since losing to Florida State at the end of the 1999 season and this marks the first time that the computer has them as one of the two teams left standing. Oklahoma is 1-3 in BCS title games overall, including losses in its last three appearances. The computer picked Oklahoma to beat Alabama in last year's championship game, but the Sooners finished 10-3. Alabama went on to defeat LSU in an all-SEC final.
The strength of the conference is a far cry from where it appeared the Big 12 would be just two years ago when it nearly suffered total dissolution prior to the 2011 campaign. That's when Colorado and Nebraska bolted and others considered doing the same. Now, it is stronger than it has ever been, even after losing Texas A&M and Missouri this season to the SEC. It added TCU and West Virginia as apt replacements and both of those schools are among the seven that figure to compete for the Big 12 title. It's the second year in-a-row that the computer has ranked the Big 12 as having the nation's top-ranked schedule strength.
The Big 12 will once again operate as 10-team league as it continues to explore options to expand back to 12 teams or beyond. Each school will once again play a round-robin regular season schedule among its members, providing a true league champion.
Oklahoma State won last year's Big 12 title, even after losing offensive guru Dana Holgorsen when he accepted the job as head coach of West Virginia. The Cowboys ranked 3rd in total offense and 2nd in passing offense.
Because of Holgorsen, West Virginia makes for a very interesting addition to the league. Holgorsen's offense at Oklahoma State led the nation in total offense in 2010. His offenses at Houston led the nation in '09 and finished 2nd in '08. From '05 to '07, Holgorsen worked his magic at Texas Tech and the Red Raiders were No. 2 in '07, No. 6 in '06 and No. 4 in '05. His passing offenses were No. 1 in '05, No. 3 in '06, No. 1 in '07, No. 2 in '08, No. 1 in '09, No. 2 in '10 and No. 6 last year at West Virginia.
The Big 12 produced last season's Heisman Trophy winner in Baylor QB Robert Griffin III (RG3). The league also saw Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy earn the Eddie Robinson Coach Of the Year award, and Gundy's star receiver, Justin Blackmon, take home his second straight Fred Biletnikoff award. Additionally, Texas A&M placekicker Randy Bullock won the Lou Groza award.
Current members of the Big 12 were 6-2 in bowl games last year. Baylor out-pointed Washington 67-56 in the Alamo Bowl, Oklahoma downed Iowa 31-14 in the Insight Bowl, TCU downed Louisiana Tech 31-24 in the Poinsettia Bowl, West Virginia crushed Clemson 70-33 in the Orange Bowl, Texas defeated California 21-10 in the Holiday Bowl and Oklahoma State took a 41-38 overtime thriller from Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl. Kansas State wound up on the wrong end of a 29-16 Cotton Bowl score vs. Arkansas and Iowa State dropped a 27-13 decision to Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl.
As for the 2012 campaign, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and West Virginia start the year with a separation of no more than 2.71 power points. That separation is important because it puts the factor of a 3-point home field advantage into play. It's why the Sooners are favored to beat Oklahoma State at home, but lose to West Virginia on the road for its only setback.
It's also what contributes to Oklahoma State being favored to beat the Mountaineers the week before WVU hosts the Sooners.
Kansas State, Texas and Baylor are no separated by no more than 2.46 power points and that's why Kansas State is projected to get the 4th-place tie-breaking victory at home over Texas. It's also what leaves Baylor in 6th as the Bears get a win over Kansas State at home, but fall to Texas on the road, in addition to not being able to catch the Sooners, Cowboys or Mountaineers.
Iowa State and Texas Tech are in a distant club of their own. They are less than 3 points away from each other, but trail the lowest of the top 7 teams by at least 8.86 points.
Kansas is 15.08 points behind the 9th-lowest team in power rating with virtual no chance to pick up a conference win without calling it a huge upset. But the Jayhawks have a wild card play in the arrival of a new head coach in Charlie Weis. Weis left his post as offensive coordinator at Florida to succeed Turner Gill who went 5-19 overall and 1-16 in conference games in two seasons. Gill was relieved of his duties after Kansas completed its 2011 schedule with a record of 2-10, going winless in the Big 12 (0-9). He lost both games he coached against rival Kansas State by an average score of 59-14. Opposing offenses scored 45 or more points in 12 of his 24 games.
However, Weis was just 35-27 in five seasons as the head coach at Notre Dame from 2005-2009, losing at least 6 games in each of his last three seasons. And last year, under Weis' tutelage, Florida had the 16th lowest-ranked offense among the 120 FBS teams.
As for expected frontrunner Oklahoma, the nonconference slate opens at UTEP and features Notre Dame at home, in addition to FCS member Florida A&M. The Sooners are projected winners by 24, 50 and 12 points, respectively, in those contests. The closest Big 12 games, according to the computer, will be the annual Dallas date with Texas, a late season home clash with rival Oklahoma State and the season final at TCU. Oklahoma only gets a 4.65-point nod over the Longhorns while being favored by 5.71 in the Bedlam game and 3.82 at the Horned Frogs.
TCU should also make an instant impact on the Big 12. After all, the Horned Frogs have experience at entering new leagues. Ever since the Southwest Conference disbanded following the 1995 season, TCU has had membership in the WAC (1996-2000), Conference USA (2001-2004) and Mountain West (2005-2011). And the school has been successful at every stop.
The Horned Frogs captured the last three Mountain West titles, as well as the 2005 conference crown in its inaugural season in that league. It shared the title in 2002 as a member of CUSA, and also shared the 1999 and 2000 WAC titles.
TCU was No. 1 in the Congrove Computer Rankings at the conclusion of the 2010 season that saw the Horned Frogs go unbeaten and defeat Wisconsin 21-19 in the Rose Bowl.
The Horned Frogs are a cumulative 48-5 over the last 4 seasons, and 119-31 this decade.
Another move which took place in the offseason was the creation of an SEC/Big 12 annual bowl matchup to begin in 2014. The five-year agreement will pit the champions of the two conferences against each other, unless one or both are selected to play in the new four-team model to determine the national championship. Should that occur, another deserving team from the conference(s) would be selected for the game.