Two completely unrelated lists have converged to signal a troubling trend for the Big 12.
On Monday morning, Rivals released its final top 100 list for the class of 2015. Of the 78 committed prospects, four are currently pledged to Big 12 schools. Compare that to the SEC’s 35, the ACC’s 19 and the Pac-12’s 14. (The Big Ten also has four committed prospects.)
Later in the day, NFL.com unveiled its first top 50 list for May’s draft. The ACC and SEC each had 13 representatives, the Pac-12 trailed with 11 and the Big Ten followed with eight. The Big 12 had three – including Oklahoma wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, who never actually played a down for the Sooners – one ahead of the Mountain West.
Now for the requisite caveats. Each list is nothing more than a congregation of opinions. Recruiting rankings and draft hauls aren’t always indicators of success. Gary Patterson, Art Briles and Bill Snyder are masters of development and fitting talent to scheme and vice versa.
Still, the numbers have been trending downward on both ends of the spectrum for years now.
Rivals 100 prospects signed by Big 12 schools
In 2014 alone, the SEC signed 45 of the Rivals 100 – 13 more than the entire Big 12 has signed in the past four years. Worse yet, Alabama, LSU and Ohio State outpaced the entire Big 12 by themselves, and Texas A&M, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida came close.
NFL Draft picks produced by Big 12 schools
2011: 30 (final year as a 12-team conference)
First-round picks from Big 12 schools
2011: 8 (six by ex-members)
Numbers on the field back up the numbers on the recruiting trail and draft boards, too. The Big 12 went just 6-11 in non-conference games this season, including 2-5 in bowl games, both worst among Power Five leagues. The Big 12 is also in the midst of a conference-record five-year drought without appearing in a national championship games, longest among Power Five conferences. It was the only major conference left out of the inaugural College Football Playoff this fall.
So, where does the Big 12 go from here? No one here is predicting the demise of the conference, and we’re certainly not advocating for expansion. Baylor, TCU, Kansas State and Oklahoma State – winners of the last four Big 12 championships (K-State technically split the 2012 title with Oklahoma but won the tiebreaker) – have pulled their weight. Each of those four programs have come agonizingly close to playing for a national championship in the past four seasons. But for the Big 12 to fully maximize its potential, it will likely need Texas and Oklahoma to be the Texas and Oklahoma of a decade ago.
No matter how efficient, how creative, how good the coaching in the Big 12 has been, ultimately it’s players that win games and a large collection of elite talent that win national championships. And as we learned Monday, when Big 12 teams go out of conference, more often than not most of the talent will line up on the opposite sideline.