With 10 teams playing a round-robin schedule and no championship game, the Big 12 is emphasizing its unique standing in the new playoff era.
The mantra “One True Champion” is part of the conference’s new branding effort, complete with television ads and its own website.
“The only thing that you really have to do after adopting ‘One True Champion’ as your moniker is you have to go out and win some games,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said. “We want to win national championships.”
The Big 12 is the only one of the five power conferences in which every team plays one another. The Big 12 ends its regular season the first weekend of December when the SEC, ACC, Big Ten and Pac-12 are playing championship games.
Texas was the Big 12’s last national champion, during the 2005 season, and got back in the title game four years after that. Eight-time Big 12 champ Oklahoma won the 2000 national title.
Baylor is coming off its first Big 12 title, and like all the champions since Texas in 2009, the Bears didn’t win all their league games.
So would a Big 12 champion with a blemished record get one of the coveted four spots in the first College Football Playoff semifinal games?
“With what you do going through this league, no, I don’t see that as a problem at all,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “But who knows? I mean, that’s why they formed the committee. We’ll see how the committee thinks.”
Here are 10 things to watch in the Big 12’s fourth year as a 10-team league:
BEAR MARKET: Baylor moves into its new campus stadium with returning quarterback Bryce Petty, the Big 12’s top offensive player, and receiver Antwan Goodley (13 touchdowns). The Bears set an NCAA record with 52.4 points a game last season.
BELL RINGER: Blake Bell was Oklahoma’s starting quarterback for eight games last season and ran for 24 TDs in short-yardage situations the previous two years. He is now a 6-foot-6, 260-pound senior starting tight end, his dad’s NFL position. The quarterback is sophomore Trevor Knight (348 yards, four TDs passing in Sugar Bowl victory over Alabama).
STRONG MESSAGE: New Texas coach Charlie Strong has suspended three potential starters for at least the season opener, and maybe more games, while four other players have been dismissed for rules violations. The Longhorns are without a Big 12 title since 2009.
EARLY NEUTRAL TESTS: Oklahoma State plays its opener Aug. 30 against defending national champ Florida State and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston in Arlington, Texas. West Virginia plays Alabama in Atlanta the same day. It’s UCLA vs. Texas in Arlington for Week 3.
DECADE IN CHARGE: Mike Gundy goes into his 10th season as Oklahoma State’s head coach, and 24th in Stillwater as a player or coach. “From a personal standpoint, I couldn’t be any more proud of who we are and the direction that we’re going,” said Gundy, 77-38 as head coach, including the 2011 Big 12 title and a second-place finish last year.
K-STATE COMEBACK: Kansas State was the defending Big 12 champ last year when it opened with a loss to FCS champion North Dakota State, part of a 2-4 start. The Wildcats then won six of their last seven games, including a bowl over Michigan. Versatile standout receiver Tyler Lockett is among seven returning offensive starters.
THIRD-TIME CHARM?: TCU (Mountain West) and West Virginia (Big East) were coming off consecutive conference titles when they joined the Big 12 in 2012. Both are since 11-14 overall and 6-12 in Big 12 games. TCU coach Gary Patterson made a significant change, hiring two new co-coordinators for a spread offense. Mountaineers coach Dana Holgorsen said his players now “understand what the Big 12 is all about.”
BOWL BOOST: Texas Tech was 7-0 under new coach and former QB Kliff Kingsbury before losing five in a row to the Big 12’s top five teams. “Our team learned how to handle adversity,” Kingsbury said. The Red Raiders then beat Arizona State in the Holiday Bowl.
WEIS WOES: Kansas has won only three Big 12 games the past five seasons, and is 4-20 overall (1-17 Big 12) under coach Charlie Weis. “We haven’t done a thing in the two years I’ve been here,” said Weis. Without revealing details, he added that his team’s expectations are clearly defined.
BISON VS. BIG 12: North Dakota State won its third FCS title in a row last season and opens this year at Iowa State, which lost its 2013 opener against FCS team Northern Iowa. “All of us have such great respect for all levels of football,” Cyclones coach Paul Rhoads said.
Predicted order of finish: 1. Baylor; 2. Oklahoma; 3. Kansas St.; 4. Oklahoma St.; 5. Texas; 6. TCU; 7. Texas Tech; 8. West Virginia; 9. Iowa State; 10. Kansas.