A Look at the Big 12

This article is the first in a five part series that will examine the Big 12 Conference. The first article in the series will take a look at the historical connections between the Big 12 and Notre Dame and also review the Big 12's place in college football over the last century.

The second in the series will review the first three schools, in alphabetical order, of the Big 12 North and make some predictions concerning their order of finish. The third will finish out the Big 12 North. The fourth in the series will examine the first three teams of the Big 12 South and how they will finish. The fifth will finish out the Big 12 South and try to forecast how they will finish as well.

While Notre Dame lies deep in the heart of Big 10 country, its connection with teams in the Big 12, formerly the Big 8 and Southwest Athletic Conference (SWC), is long and rich. Notre Dame has faced current Big 12 teams in ten of the twenty-six bowl games that they have played since 1980. They have squared off with Colorado, Texas and Texas A&M three times each and played Nebraska once. Their record in those games is 5-5.

The bowl rivalry between the Irish and Texas A&M was especially rich during that period. Notre Dame's last bowl win came against the Aggies in the 1994 Cotton Bowl. Not only did Notre Dame take home the win but also, later that year, Lou Holtz hired Bob Davie as his defensive coordinator. Davie, the A&M defensive coordinator, authored the Aggie's vaunted "Wrecking Crew" defense. Davie became Notre Dame's head coach in 1997.

Between 1996 and 2001, Notre Dame played nine regular season games with current Big 12 members, though no Big 12 team has been on the regular season schedule since the 2002 season. No game during that time period stands out more than Notre Dame's heartbreaking overtime loss to Nebraska on 9 September 2000. In that game, Notre Dame stormed back from a 21-7 deficit, scoring twice on special teams plays. Running back Julius Jones returned a Nebraska kickoff one hundred yards for a touchdown, and wide receiver Joey Getherall took a punt eighty-three yards for a score.

Perhaps the best remembered aspect of that game was Davie's decision to go for overtime after Notre Dame forced a Nebraska punt with 1:07 left on the clock in the fourth quarter. In all fairness to Davie, Notre Dame quarterback Arnaz Battle had completed only three out of fifteen passes on the day for a mere forty yards. The Irish had the first possession in overtime but had to settle for a field goal. On the Huskers' first possession, quarterback Eric Crouch, after converting a critical third-and-nine from the twenty-four, two plays later ran untouched into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.

The Big 12 has played a prominent role in the National Championship picture over the last several years. Of course, Texas won the BCS National Championship in 2005. Nebraska won the BCS National Championship in 1994, 1995 and again in 1997. Oklahoma won in 2000 and played for National Championships in 2003 and 2004 but lost to LSU and USC respectively. Since 1992 there has only been two years in which a Big 12 team did not finish in the top five of the final BCS poll.

Predictably, the Big 12 has also fared quite well recruiting. Since 2002, the Big 12 has had at least two teams sign top 10 classes according to Scout.com. In 2002 they had three schools in the top ten, Texas, Oklahoma and Texas A&M with Texas and Oklahoma finishing 1-2.

In recent years, the Irish have frequently found themselves going head to head with the recruiting juggernaut that is the Big 12. Big 12 schools heavily recruited several members Notre Dame's recruiting class of 2006. George West, James Aldridge, Chris Stewart, Paddy Mullen, and Munir Prince all hailed from Big 12 country or, in the case of Aldridge, had strong family connections there. In 2006, the Irish also lost some prized recruits to the Big 12, the biggest of these being two much needed defensive tackles, Gerald McCoy to Oklahoma and Ben Alexander to Texas. For the 2007 class, Notre Dame finds itself competing with the Big 12 for the signatures of Ryan Miller (Colorado), Andre Jones (Texas verbal), Richetti Jones (all of the Big 12) and John Chiles (Texas verbal) and Matt Romine (Oklahoma).

The national championships and outstanding recruiting all point to the fact that the Big 12 constitutes one of the most prestigious conferences in college football. It followed the SEC as the second of the nation's new super-conferences. The Big 12 was created in 1996 and represented a merger of the old Big 8 Conference and several members from the SWC. All eight members of the Big 8 joined Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor and Texas Tech from the old SWC formed the new Big 12.

The Big 12 has roots that are nearly one hundred years old. Its predecessors, the Big 8 and Southwest Athletic Conference date to 1908 and 1912 respectively. The current members of the Big 12 have collectively won or shared twenty national championships since the advent of football polls in 1936. Oklahoma easily leads the way with eleven followed by Nebraska with five, Texas with four and Texas A&M with one. During that same period, Notre Dame also won or shared eleven national championships.

The Big 12 member teams have also produced several Heisman Trophy winners. Twelve different players from Big 12 schools have won the Heisman Trophy compared to seven from Notre Dame. Some of college football's most legendary names have won the award while attending Big 12 universities. These players include Earl Campbell (Texas) and Billy Sims (Oklahoma), who won in back-to-back years, 1977 and 1978. Johnny Rodgers won the award in 1972 and was Nebraska's version of Notre Dame's Rocket Ishmail. In fact, I suspect that most Big Red fans would say that The Rocket was Notre Dame's version of Johnny Rodgers. Some of the older subscribers may well remember John David Crowe, the first Heisman winner from a current Big 12 school, Texas A&M, and nearly every college and professional football fan knows about Oklahoma State's incomparable Barry Sanders. Notre Dame's most recent winner was Tim Brown in 1987. Jason White, Oklahoma, most recently won the Heisman Trophy for the Big 12 in 2003.

The Big 12 Conference has become a dominating figure in college football's national landscape. Every year at least one of its teams contends for a national championship and one of its players makes a run at the Heisman Trophy. The next article in this series will briefly examine the first three teams of the North Division of the Big 12 Conference and make some guesses about their 2006 success and order of finish.

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