The Big 12 had the preseason No. 1 team, and though that team didn't live up to expectations, the league did have a national title contender and the Heisman winner.
Thus, while the league was hit with more realignment problems, the on-field product – for the most part – remained the over-riding storyline.
While Oklahoma went into the season ranked No. 1, Oklahoma State outshone its in-state rival and was in the national title hunt until it fell to Iowa State on Nov. 18. Even then, the Cowboys had their backers; they ended the season by making a case that they deserved to be No. 1 by beating Stanford in the Fiesta Bowl.
Baylor was in the national spotlight, too. On the first Friday of the season, QB Robert Griffin III led a stirring 50-48 victory over TCU. That was the first of a string of great games for Griffin, who became the first Baylor player to win the Heisman. In addition, he led the Bears to just their second 10-win season ever.
On the flipside, Missouri and Texas A&M left to join the SEC. To counter their defections, the Big 12 announced that TCU and West Virginia were joining the league. But while TCU will be a full-fledged member this fall, it might be a while for WVU. WVU wants to play in the Big 12 this fall, but the Big East is fighting that. Both sides have filed lawsuits, which mean it might be 2013 before WVU is a Big 12 participant.
Here's a closer look at the Big 12.
Best postseason performance: Oklahoma State. The Cowboys fell behind 14-0 early in the second quarter to Andrew Luck and Stanford, but rallied and ended up winning 41-38 in overtime. They were the beneficiary of extremely conservative playcalling by Stanford coach David Shaw in the final minute of regulation, but they also deserve credit for finding a way to win despite getting shredded for 590 total yards. WR Justin Blackmon went out on an extremely high note, catching eight passes for 186 yards and three TDs in one of the postseason's best performances.
[Looking back: Best games of the 2011 college football season]
Worst postseason performance: Iowa State. "Worst" is a relative term. The Big 12 was 6-2 in the postseason (two of the wins were by schools leaving for the SEC), and neither of the losses was a surprise. Iowa State gets the nod here because it didn't play as well in its loss as Kansas State did in its setback. The Cyclones' defense couldn't stop Rutgers' rushing attack in the Pinstripe Bowl; Rutgers had been mediocre on the ground during the regular season.
Underclassmen turning pro early: Texas RB Jamison Berryhill, Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon, Kansas State RB Bryce Brown, Baylor QB Robert Griffin III, Oklahoma LB/DE Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma State FS Johnny Thomas
Team most hurt by early departures: Baylor. Any time you lose a Heisman winner early, it hurts. But with Griffin's departure, Baylor also is losing a transformative figure for the program. To make it even worse, Baylor's leading rusher and leading receiver were seniors, so the Bears have a lot of rebuilding to do on offense.
[Related: Record 65 underclassmen enter NFL draft]
Key coordinator hire: Oklahoma defensive coordinator Mike Stoops. The former Arizona coach will re-join his brother with the Sooners. For whatever reason, OU has struggled a bit defensively the past few seasons. The hope is that the fieriest Stoops brother will make an instant impact.
Recruiting storyline to watch: The potential exists for just two league teams to have top-25 recruiting classes. That would be a surprisingly low number. Texas and Oklahoma look like locks for top-10 classes, and the Longhorns having a highly rated class certainly isn't a surprise. Oklahoma State is coming off its second consecutive 11-win season, but the Cowboys' class is underwhelming. Kansas State's on-field success isn't translating to recruiting success, either, but coach Bill Snyder never seems to have highly rated classes.
Biggest spring practice question: Can Oklahoma State and Texas find quarterbacks? Oklahoma State lost starter Brandon Weeden, while Texas returns Case McCoy and David Ash. Texas should be fine offensively if it can find a consistent quarterback, but is that possible? Oklahoma State looks as if it is going to take a least a half-step back because of the offensive firepower it lost. Oklahoma returns QB Landry Jones, which gives the Sooners a big advantage over the other top contenders.
Projected 2012 conference champ: Oklahoma.
2012 national title contender: Oklahoma. The Sooners went into the 2011 season atop the preseason polls but lost three times and didn't even win the league. OU won't be as highly hyped this fall, but if a go-to wide receiver emerges (hey, Kenny Stills, we're talking about you) and Mike Stoops' hiring pays immediate dividends, the 2012 Sooners will have a lot more success than the 2011 version.
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