After taking more than its fair share of criticism over the years, the Big 12 Conference may have had a breakthrough 2017 season.
Eight of the league’s 10 teams finished bowl eligible, with three teams reaching at least 10 wins. The Big 12 saw the return of its championship contest after a 7-year hiatus.
And Oklahoma, propelled by a statement win at Ohio State in Week 2, rode that wave of momentum all the way to the College Football Playoff and produced a Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Baker Mayfield.
The season summary suggests that 2017 was the best football season the Big 12 has gridiron in recent memory — at the very least since the playoff era began in 2014. But some pundits still aren’t buying the conference as force to be reckoned with in the future.
FOX Sports radio host Jason McIntyre compared the Big 12 to “arena league football” during a segment about Mayfield’s draft stock on Monday, in which he ripped the league for failing showcase strong defenses.
“The Big 12 plays arena league football. That’s what they do. The defenses are a joke. It’s pathetic …. Oklahoma State’s pass defense — they were 117th out of 130. Baker killed them. Whoop-dee-damn-doo. Texas Tech — 123rd in pass defense.”
To McIntyre’s point, it’s true that the Big 12 didn’t exactly stand atop the nation in 2017 when it came to pass defenses across the board. Even Oklahoma had its fair share of struggles in the secondary throughout the season — as seen against Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and in its home loss to Iowa State.
Is the Big 12’s defense really pathetic?
Never mind that Oklahoma went into Columbus, Ohio, and held the No. 2 team in the nation to 16 points. Never mind that TCU beat Arkansas at their own game in a 28-7 win and later went seven straight games without allowing a second-half touchdown. Never mind that the Horned Frogs and Sooners defeated top-10 SEC opponents in the forms of Alabama and Ole Miss, respectively, as recently as 2014. That included TCU’s 42-3 demolition of the Rebels.
Let’s not forget the 2017 Texas defense either, which recorded 16 interceptions — including 5 pick-sixes — on the season. Or that the Mayfield-led Sooners hung 45 points in regulation against Georgia’s highly-touted defense in the College Football Playoffs.
But in college football, perception is reality. The Big 12 hasn’t had a national champion on the football field since Texas defeated USC in 2006. And as long as the league has 10 teams, that criticism likely will disappear.
But despite the claims of some, the Big 12 is more than capable of playing some impressive defense.
And it may just be a matter of the schools stacking another couple of seasons like last season for the narrative to change.