Sports writers have likened the Big 12 to a bad arranged marriage, but it's really been like an arranged mega-band, with all the attending craziness, drama, and bickering that you'd expect.
Well, the band is breaking up, but not before they embark on one last tour together.
THE BAND IS OUT ON THE FIELD
First, a little bit of background is in order. The Big 12 came into existence following the demise of the Southwest Conference in 1995, after which Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Baylor teamed up with the old Big 8 Conference to form a new 12-team league, split into two divisions--with Oklahoma and Oklahoma State joining the four Texas schools in the South and Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Kansas State, Iowa State, and Missouri in the North.
With both Texas and Oklahoma mired in slumps, when the Big 12 launched in 1996 it was the North Division that was the powerhouse, where Kansas State was thriving under Bill Snyder, Colorado was nationally relevant, and Nebraska was one of college football's alpha dogs. But even then Texas' oversized influence was predominant. As part of its conditions for joining the league, UT insisted that partial qualifiers--long a staple of the Nebraska program under Tom Osborne--be nixed, and the league was headquartered in Dallas.
For the North, it was the beginning of a steady decline into mediocrity. After winning four of the first eight conference championship games, the North Division winner has lost six straight. And for Nebraska, the Big 12 would prove to be one long Texas nightmare. In the Big 12's inaugural season, the Longhorns spoiled the No. 3 Huskers' national title hopes with a shocking upset in the championship game, punctuated by James Brown's unforgettable "Roll Left" play.
It would only get worse. Two years later, the crown jewel of Mack Brown's debut season was Texas' 20-16 win over No. 7 Nebraska in Lincoln, snapping the Huskers' 47-game home winning streak. In 1999, Texas would knock off a No. 3-ranked Nebraska team for a second time before Nebraska picked up its first win over Texas in Big 12 play, in the '99 conference title game. And since then? Nothing but further misery for Big Red, as Texas has rattled off five consecutive wins--four of which the Longhorns won by a combined total of nine points.
Even when the clock strikes zero and Nebraska thinks it has Texas beat, the punishment continues.
So yeah: When the Big 10 started looking for a twelfth team to add, Texas fans weren't all that surprised when Nebraska started jumping up and down and conspicuously waving its arms while screaming "Pick me! Pick me!"
Nebraska is gone, and with them broke Colorado (off to the Pac 10), but not before the band hits the road for one last tour.
THE BIG 12 FAREWELL TOUR
SEPTEMBER 04: UCLA at Kansas State, Missouri v. Illinois (St. Louis)
The conference kicks off the season this weekend with two interesting non-con games as Kansas State hosts UCLA and Missouri battles Illinois at the RCA Dome in St. Louis. After the Ron Prince fiasco, Kansas State brought back legendary Bill Snyder to stabilize the program, which means you know he's not happy about his team's opening week assignment, against a school you can find a map. The Wildcats weren't a very good offensive football team last year, and they return just five starters and no attractive candidates at QB. Look for K-State to slow games to a grind, and for tailback Daniel Thomas (1,290 yards and 11 TDs last year) to carry the ball as many times as his body can handle it.
Missouri is a good bet to run their record against Illinois in this neutral-field series to 6-0, as junior QB Blaine Gabbert looks to take a big step forward after a promising debut last season. Despite a rough summer of offseason news, Tigers fans have reasons to be optimistic, and Missouri represents the best bet to disrupt Nebraska's plans to win the North Division for the second-straight year.
SEPTEMBER 11: Florida State at Oklahoma, Colorado at Cal, Georgia Tech at Kansas, Iowa State at Iowa
*Oklahoma hosts Florida State for the teams' first meeting since the 2000 Orange Bowl, which the Sooners won to claim the BCS Championship. The Seminoles represent the lone challenge to OU on the non-conference schedule, but the Sooners are a ridiculous 66-2 in Norman since Bob Stoops took over.
*Colorado actually looks pretty good on paper, especially now that Tyler Hansen has been named the starter at QB. The Buffs visit to Cal will be a good measuring stick in the early going.
*Mark Mangino is out at Kansas. Turner Gill is in. The Jayhawks are green at the skill positions and may take a while to get going, as this is a team and program in transition.
*From Phil Steele we learn that Iowa State has gone 14 straight quarters without scoring a touchdown versus in-state rival Iowa, a streak that should end this year. On the heels of a successful debut season under Paul Rhoads that saw Iowa State finish 7-6, including a bowl win over Minnesota, the Cyclones return four linemen who started all 13 games last year, along with QB Austen Arnauld and senior back Alexander Robinson. Expect Iowa State to field its best offense since 2005.
SEPTEMBER 18: Texas at Texas Tech, Baylor at TCU, Nebraska at Washington
*The band just won't be the same without Mike Leach, but the music might be crisper. Certainly the defense will be. The Longhorns are loaded once again, but Lubbock is the Bermuda Triangle of college football, and with gobs of offensive talent returning, Texas Tech will be explosive on offense once again.
*All hail the return of Robert Griffin, tragically lost to an ACL tear early last season, before which he was looking an awful lot like Vince Young, except for a much better passer as a true freshman than VY was as either a redshirt freshman or sophomore. He'll need to be brilliant against TCU, who are national title contenders behind Andy Dalton and a tough, experienced defense.
*If Nebraska is going to stumble before their showdown with Texas, it's the Huskies who have the best shot of breaking through Bo Pelini's defense. The good news for the Huskers is that they return starters up and down the depth chart. The bad news is that this includes quarterback. Speaking of which, Coach Pelini: how is the quarterback competition coming along?
Okay then. Sorry I asked.
SEPTEMBER 25: Oklahoma at Cincinnati, UCLA vs Texas
Both the Sooners and Longhorns should be solid favorites, but the Bearcats and Bruins could represent trap games as the Big 12 South rivals eye the Red River Shootout a week later. Longhorns fans desperately want this one, however: the last time UCLA visited Austin was the infamous Rout 66, arguably the worst loss in Texas program history, as UCLA emasculated John Mackovic's Longhorns 66-3. In Austin. Oh God, I'm going to vomit.
OCTOBER 02: Oklahoma vs Texas (Cotton Bowl)
*It's incredible to think about considering the two coaches' places in October 2004, but heading into the 2010 Red River Shootout Bob Stoops now finds himself in a similar position to that of Mack Brown after the Sooners defeated the Longhorns for a fifth straight season. Like Brown, Stoops--given his overall track record--may not be on the "hot seat," but he's now dealing with an increasingly frustrated fan base that's beginning to wonder about his ability to win the big ones and is more than a little disappointed that two of the past five seasons at OU have been eight-win campaigns. The natives will not be happy if Stoops loses for the fifth time in six years to Mack Brown and Texas.
OCTOBER 09: Texas A&M vs Arkansas (Jerryworld), Colorado at Missouri
*Since the start of the Big 12, the Aggies are a pathetic 3-17 in non-conference games against BCS opponents, including a humiliating 47-19 depantsing to Ryan Mallett and Arkansas last year. Nevertheless, Aggie fans are genuinely excited heading into 2010, with a promising young defensive coordinator in Tim DeRuyter (hired from Air Force where he spent three years in charge of an excellent Falcons defense) and an army of skill position talent--including preseason First Team Big 12 QB Jerrod Johnson, all three of their top pass catchers from a year ago, and a pair of quality tailbacks in Christine Michael and Cyrus Gray (both of whom went over 750 yards last year).
*In Columbia, Colorado and Missouri square off for a critical North Division battle, the winner of whom will be in position to challenge Nebraska for the North Division crown.
OCTOBER 16: Texas at Nebraska
*If both the Huskers and Longhorns make it to this game undefeated, circle it on your calendar as the must-see game of the entire 2010 college football season. Nebraska is 1-8 against Texas since the launch of the Big 12 and Huskers nation wants this win very, very badly. Though the two teams could find themselves in a rematch in the Big 12 Championship Game in December, this is the last time the two teams are guaranteed to take the stage together. Don't miss it.
OCTOBER 23: Oklahoma at Missouri
*If the Sooners get through the Red River Shootout, road trips to Columbia and College Station represent the best two shots at derailing the Sooners in the regular season. Bob Stoops has been near-unbeatable in Norman, but he's 33-14 on the road, including a 1-3 effort last year without Sam Bradford.
OCTOBER 30: Texas Tech at Texas A&M, Missouri at Nebraska
*It won't be the same without El Capitan, but raise your glasses and toast it with me: Once in a while, a pirate can beat a soldier, you know?
NOVEMBER 06: Oklahoma at Texas A&M
*The Sooners have won seven straight versus the Aggies, including a 65-10 throttling in Norman last year in which Landry Jones torched the hapless A&M defense for 392 yards through the air.
NOVEMBER 13: Texas Tech at Oklahoma
*The home team has won six straight in the series, but Tech looks like a team that should begin to peak in November, making an upset an outside possibility, especially if the Sooners' offense fails to click.
NOVEMBER 20: Nebraska at Texas A&M
*If the Huskers get this far without a loss, a home date with Colorado to close the season makes this road trip to College Station the more dangerous remaining regular season date.
NOVEMBER 25: Texas A&M at Texas
*Stuff yourself on turkey and then settle in for what should be some entertaining Thanksgiving evening football. Jerrod Johnson and the Aggies were the only offense to crack Will Muschamp's defense a season ago.
NOVEMBER 26: Colorado at Nebraska
*If the Buffaloes steal a road win in Columbia, this could be for a spot in the Big 12 Championship Game.
NOVEMBER 27: Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, Kansas vs Missouri (Kansas City)
*The Sooners and Tigers figure to be heavy favorites, but this pair of rivalry games seems rarely to result in a blowout.
DECEMBER 04: Big 12 Championship Game (Jerryworld)
*The band's last show could be its most exciting and anticipated yet. And if the college football gods are paying attention, it will feature Texas and Nebraska.