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What If... The New Big 12 Were The Old Big 12? (Part One)

Subtitle: All Hail Our Manhattan Overlords.

Kevin Lockett (#83) and K-State would have absolutely owned the New Big 12 in the early years.  PWNED, even.

As you probably know by now, we at Rock M Nation tend to think that the best way to look at how change or potential will impact the future is to look at how it would have impacted things in the past.  It is a common theme in RMN's What If...? section -- What If the Big Ten Had Already Invited Mizzou? What If the NCAA Tournament Had Already Expanded to 96 Teams? Et cetera.  Readers had to know that, as soon as Mizzou's fate was determined, we would be diving into a new What If... series, and sure enough, here we are.  With Mizzou staying in a ten-team Big 12, it is time to look at how things would have shaken down if the Big 12 had always been without Nebraska and Colorado.

Now, there are two different ways to look at this piece of alternate history, and you know as well as I do that we'll be looking at both.  I'm nothing if not predictable, thorough, and, well, wordy.  So over the coming days, we will take a look at two slightly different scenarios:

  1. What If This Conference Always Had Ten Teams?
  2. What If The Big 12 Had Gone to 12 Teams Without Nebraska and Colorado?

We've examined the last 15 years in multiple What If... scenarios on RMN, so I won't spend too much time on each year.  (Well ... as little time as I'm capable of spending. I always write more than I intend.)  But I will go through each season with new results, standings, bowls, impact on Mizzou, etc.  We'll do this for both scenarios above ... and then we're done.  After this, it's back to Mizzou History Countdown pieces and 2010 Opponent Previews.

Now, a couple quick notes:

  • I established the 'new' schedules in the most straight-forward way possible: by merging teams' typical schedules in odd- and even-numbered seasons.  In 1996, Mizzou hosted KSU, OSU, Colorado and Kansas, and traveled to Texas, Iowa State, Nebraska, and Baylor.  That means the 'extra' games we need to add here are against Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Texas Tech.  Well, in 1998, they hosted Oklahoma and traveled to Texas A&M and Texas Tech.  So that's how we'll add them to the 1996 slate (and all future even-numbered years).

    This method did establish some scheduling quirks, of course -- in even-numbered years, Mizzou plays at Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech, for instance.  That's three trips to Texas, compared to just one (Baylor) in odd-numbered years.  Meanwhile, this also results in Iowa State hosting Texas and Oklahoma in one year, then traveling to both the next.

    Also: to make the home-road splits work, I had to flip the KU-Baylor and KU-OSU games.  That slightly alters a couple of the 'real' results, but oh well.  For the most part, the 'real' results in their 'real' locations were retained, and I once again used my Proj. F/+ tools to determine the winners of the 'new' games.
  • Since we're talking about things "always having been this way," I'm retaining the "3 non-conference games, 9 conference games" structure going all the way back to 1996.  Before 2002 (and again in 2004 and 2005), teams only played 11-game regular seasons, and nobody started playing nine conference games until the Pac-10 started a few years ago.  So clearly we'd have probably been looking at a Big Ten-esque "play almost everybody every year" situation.  But for continuity's sake, we're going with 12 games throughout.  It's just easier that way.
  • I'm including each team's actual record next to their 'new' record.  In parentheses next to the old record is a comparison to real life and alternate reality.  (A positive number signifies that the team did better in alternate reality.)  It's a little iffy -- at the point in which I'm making the comparisons, we're looking at the team's complete real-life record and their regular season alternate record.  Mathematically, it's a little shaky, but it's not meant for any concrete conclusions -- just an idea of who may be benefiting or suffering from the new conference schedule.  And in the early days, the South struggled much, much more than the North.

So beginning with the 1996 season, the remnants of the Big 8 (sans Nebraska and Colorado, who both left for other conferences, meaning we now live in a world where the Big Ten and Pac-12 have had championship games for a while ... and our conference has not) and the better (or more politically-connected) half of the SWC merge to form a ten-team conference called the ... well, I don't know what it would be called.  Great Ten?  Heartland Conference?  Great Plains Conference?  Hell ... Big Ten (with a certain other conference becoming the Big 12)?  Suggestions welcome.  But because it makes my head hurt to think about it, we're just going to say that it's called the New Big 12.


The first thing we have to realize about this "new" Big 12 is that ... without Nebraska and Colorado, they would be starting out as something far less than an elite conference.  To understand what I mean, let's take a look at the 1996 preseason rankings.

Preseason Rankings
#13 Texas A&M
#21 Kansas State
#24 Kansas

While the New Big 12 doesn't have a team ranked among the Top 12, the Big Ten's Nebraska starts the season #1, and the Pac-12's Colorado starts #5.  Oklahoma and Texas were both in a relative down period at the time -- in the two years before the conference's formation, Oklahoma was just 11-11-1.  Texas, meanwhile, was 18-6-1, but was in a transition period; nothing was expected of them in 1996.  (Of course, they surprised everybody by winning the Big 12, but only because of the Big 12's history of championship game upsets.  In reality, they still only went 8-5 in 1996.)

In other words, the failure to add NU and CU to the roster would have caused some major problems early on in terms of perceptions and respect.  But none of that would really be a concern for Mizzou -- they're too focused on making their first bowl game since 1983.  Can they do it with Oklahoma, Texas A&M and Texas Tech on the slate instead of heavyweights Nebraska and Colorado?

Missouri Schedule & Results
8/31 at Texas L, 10-40
9/14 Memphis L, 16-19
9/21 Clemson W, 38-24
9/28 at Iowa State L, 31-45
10/5 at SMU W, 27-26
10/12 Kansas State L, 10-35
10/19 at Texas A&M L, 17-30
10/26 Oklahoma State W, 35-28
11/2 Oklahoma W, 23-17
11/9 at Texas Tech L, 10-28
11/16 at Baylor W, 49-42
11/23 Kansas W, 42-25
6-6 (4-5)

So Missouri stands at just 2-5 after a tough loss in College Station.  But the schedule is back-loaded for success, as only one of the final five opponents will become bowl-eligible.  Mizzou knocks out both Oklahoma teams, takes out Baylor in overtime, and romps over a surprisingly bad Kansas team, and viola!  Bowl eligibility!

(And in an 11-game scenario, Mizzou may or may not have scored that sixth win, depending on the team removed from their now 8-game schedule.)

Big 12ish Standings
Team Conf.
Kansas State 9-0 12-0 9-3 (+3)
Texas 7-2 9-4 8-5 (+1)
Texas Tech 7-2 9-3 7-5 (+2)
Texas A&M 6-3 8-5 6-6 (+1.5)
Missouri 4-5 6-6 5-6 (+0.5)
Kansas 4-5 6-6 4-7 (+1.5)
Oklahoma 3-6 3-9 3-8 (-0.5)
Oklahoma State 2-7 5-7 5-6 (-0.5)
Iowa State 2-7 3-9 2-9 (-0.5)
Baylor 1-8 4-8 4-7 (-0.5)

Here's a good time to point something else out.  From 1994 to 1999, Kansas State went 54-0 in the regular season against teams not named Colorado and Nebraska.  Meanwhile, they went 4-8 against those two teams.  In other words, living in a world without either the Buffaloes or the Huskers, the Wildcats would have run rampant across this conference.  They would have absolutely DESTROYED this conference in the early years before Texas and Oklahoma got their footing (and even then, they'd still dominate quite a bit).  We are left to wonder if recruiting would have gone to a bit of a higher level at this time, leading to a less severe drop-off after the 2003 season, but we won't explore that one too much -- we're only looking at the on-field what-ifs instead of the "in the recruits' homes" what-ifs, if that makes any sense.

Regardless, 1996 was a pretty unfavorable year to go undefeated.  Heading into the bowls, Florida State and Arizona State were undefeated, and Florida and Ohio State each had one loss.  There was an extra wildcard here too: Nebraska was 10-2, but they had been ranked third before getting upset by Texas in the Big 12 title game.  The Big Ten title game in 1996 would have been an epic battle between Ohio State and Nebraska, and the winner likely would have passed undefeated K-State into either third or even second in the standings.  With #2/3 Arizona State playing #2/3 Ohio State/Nebraska in the Rose Bowl, that would have left K-State with a chance to make a statement against #1 Florida State in the Fiesta Bowl.  They likely would have failed, however.


Fiesta: #1 Florida State 38, #4 Kansas State 16
Cotton: #21 Texas 21, #5 BYU 14
Holiday: #13 Washington 27, Texas Tech 21
Alamo: #20 Iowa 23, Texas A&M 17
Aloha: Missouri 42, Navy 41

* We are working with the assumption that this weaker conference is still able to finagle bowl deals with the Cotton, Holiday and Alamo Bowls as the main components to their lineup.  The Cotton and Alamo are obviously no-brainers, but there is technically a chance that the Holiday wouldn't have been tremendously intrigued with this lineup.  Aloha Bowl too, for that matter.

In real-life, of course, Florida whipped Florida State in the Sugar Bowl and Ohio State beat Arizona State in the Rose Bowl, giving Florida an unexpected national title.  With Florida State now playing a weaker K-State squad, they likely win and take the title, with the winner of Ohio State/Nebraska/Arizona State finishing second and Florida third.

Oh yeah, and ... Mizzou wins a bowl!  Maybe.  The Projected F/+ numbers say Mizzou would have eked by Navy, but ... well ... let's just say that after this past bowl season, quite a few Mizzou fans might disagree with that assessment.

In all, the conference goes just 2-3 in bowls.  However, two unranked underdogs (Tech, A&M) show well against ranked opponents, meaning it's not much of a disappointment.


With Nebraska (#6) and Colorado (#8) both ranked high to start the 1997 season, the conference once again does not have a marquee team.  K-State has to replace quite a bit, so they start ranked rather low -- clearly they haven't earned the respect of pollsters yet.  That will quickly change, but with Texas about to take a nosedive, there will soon be only one team truly deserving of national respect.  Not good for a conference of ten teams.

Preseason Rankings
#12 Texas
#18 Kansas State

Missouri Schedule & Results
9/6 Eastern Michigan W, 44-24
9/13 at Kansas L, 7-15
9/20 at Tulsa W, 42-21
9/27 Ohio State L, 10-31
10/4 Iowa State W, 45-21
10/11 at Kansas State L, 11-41
10/18 Texas W, 37-29
10/25 at Oklahoma State W, 51-50
11/1 Texas A&M
W, 31-28
11/8 at Oklahoma
W, 21-10
11/15 Baylor W, 42-24
11/22 Texas Tech
W, 38-30
9-3 (6-3)

In a conference devoid of a second power, Mizzou does their best to fill that role.  After a 3-3 start, they pounce on a significantly weak set of South teams, winning six in a row (all against the South) to end the season.  There is no kicked ball here -- instead, they creep past Oklahoma State in the epic 51-50 OT game, sneak out a home win against a good A&M squad and feast on Oklahoma, Baylor and Tech.  With no Nebraska, Mizzou thrives.

Big 12ish Standings
Team Conf.
Kansas State 9-0 12-0 11-1 (+1)
Missouri 7-2 9-3 7-5 (+2)
Texas A&M 6-3 9-3 9-4 (+0.5)
Texas Tech 6-3 8-4 6-5 (+1.5)
Oklahoma State 5-4 8-4 8-4 (+0)
Kansas 3-6 5-7 5-6 (+0.5)
Iowa State 3-6 3-9 1-10 (+1.5)
Texas 2-7 4-8 4-7 (-0.5)
Oklahoma 2-7 4-9 4-8 (-0.5)
Baylor 2-7 3-9 2-9 (+0.5)

Mizzou, of course, does not thrive as much as K-State, however.  The Wildcats finish their second consecutive undefeated campaign and enter the postseason with a chance for at least a split national title.  In real life, Nebraska and Michigan split the title this season.  However, they play each other in the Big Ten Championship now, meaning the winner heads to the Rose Bowl with a chance to clinch the national title, while the loser gets an at-large BCS bid.  The Est. F/+ numbers LOVE this Michigan team -- they were by far #1.  So we'll say they beat the Huskers (kicked ball karma!), who then fall to the Fiesta Bowl against K-State.  If KSU beats Nebraska, and the Pac-12 champion (the winner of UCLA-Wazzu) beats Michigan, the Wildcats are national champions.

Of course, neither of those things happens.


Fiesta: #3 Nebraska 49, #2 Kansas State 26
Cotton: #5 UCLA 45, #13 Missouri 28
Holiday: #18 Colorado State 31, #20 Texas A&M 17
Alamo: #17 Purdue 33, Texas Tech 27 Arizona 31, Oklahoma State 20

KSU's one loss in 1997 was a 56-26 debacle in Lincoln.  In Arizona, the score is a hair closer, but it's still a dominating loss.  Plus, Michigan handles Wazzu/UCLA, winning the national title outright and giving the Big Ten the top two spots in the polls.  The Big Ten is thriving, while the New Big 12 goes 0-for-5 in the postseason.  Mizzou gets to play on January 1 for the first time since 1970, but they can't handle Cade McKnown and UCLA (and if the Bruins beat Wazzu to win the Pac-12, Ryan Leaf and the Cougars likely do the same damage).  And neither Texas A&M, Texas Tech nor Oklahoma State can prevent the conference from going winless.

Two years into the life of the New Big 12, things aren't going well for the conference -- only one team (KSU) finishes in the Top 15, and the Wildcats have not represented well at the top, getting whipped twice in BCS games.  The conference is 2-8 in bowls, and while the unknown future turns out well -- Texas is about to hire Mack Brown, OU is a year away from hiring Bob Stoops, and KSU/ATM/Mizzou are all about to have solid seasons in 1998, things could not look more bleak.  Everything people say about the Big East right now?  They're saying at least that much about the New Big 12.


Despite the postseason problems, KSU is still 24-2 in the last two seasons, and they return a majority of their difference-makers from the 12-1 team of 1997.  Clearly they're seen as a top notch team.  Meanwhile A&M and Mizzou return quite a bit too from solid 1997 campaign.  Everybody else in the conference?  Yikes.

Preseason Rankings
#6 Kansas State
#14 Texas A&M
#23 Missouri

Missouri Schedule & Results
9/5 Bowling Green W, 37-0
9/12 Kansas W, 41-23
9/19 at Ohio State L, 14-35
9/26 at Baylor W, 35-10
10/3 Northwestern State W, 35-14
10/10 at Iowa State W, 35-19
10/17 Oklahoma W, 20-6
10/24 at Texas W, 27-23
10/31 at Texas Tech W, 28-26
11/7 Oklahoma State W, 42-9
11/14 at Texas A&M L, 14-17
11/21 Kansas State L, 25-31
9-3 (7-2)

With a trip to Waco replacing the doomed trip to Lincoln, clearly things go better for Mizzou in 1998.  They start 9-1, reaching as high as about sixth in the country, but a Top 10 showdown with Texas A&M is lost at the hands of Randy Potter (sorry, Randy F'ing Potter), and Mizzou falls a play or two short against K-State as well.  Still, though, they are clearly part of a top-heavy New Big 12's upper tier right now.  Mizzou, A&M and K-State manage to go 23-4 in conference (20-1 in games not against each other), while the bottom three teams go 3-24.  The 1998 season is still full of killer what-ifs, but Mizzou's future as a top member of a decent conference still looks bright.

And ironically, while K-State now goes undefeated in 1996 and 1997, they do not in 1998, a year where they actually did go undefeated in real life.  Why?  Because of a trip to College Station, where we'll say that Sirr Parker still happens.

Big 12ish Standings
Team Conf.
Texas A&M 8-1 11-2 11-3 (+0.5)
Kansas State 8-1 11-1 11-2 (+0.5)
Missouri 7-2 9-3 8-4 (+1)
Texas 6-3 8-4 9-3 (-1)
Texas Tech 5-4 8-4 7-5 (-1)
Oklahoma 4-5 6-6 5-6 (+0.5)
Oklahoma State 4-5 6-6 5-6 (+0.5)
Kansas 1-8 4-8 4-7 (-0.5)
Iowa State 1-8 3-9 4-7 (-1.5)
Baylor 1-8 2-10 2-9 (-0.5)

K-State loses to A&M sometime in late-October or early-November instead of early-December, and because of the way everything else shakes down (Texas finishing a game worse than they did in real life, for one), we'll say that while the Wildcats still get screwed out of a BCS bowl bid (the world is still stupid), they don't fall all the way to the Alamo Bowl.


Sugar: #3 Ohio State 24, #8 Texas A&M 14
Cotton: #4 Kansas State 38, #25 Mississippi State 10
Holiday: #17 Missouri 31, #5 Arizona 14
Alamo: Purdue 37, #20 Texas 30
Independence: Mississippi 35, Texas Tech 18 West Virginia 31, Oklahoma 10
Aloha: #21 Oregon 43, Oklahoma State 39

This bowl season goes ... a little better for the conference.  The top tier (KSU, ATM, MU) goes 2-1, with ATM scoring a respectable loss to a ridiculously good Ohio State team.  (In real life, Arizona pulled an upset over Nebraska in the Holiday Bowl and would have quite possibly done the same against Mizzou, but the Est. F/+ numbers didn't like them very much, giving Mizzou an easy edge.)  However, the conference still goes just 2-5 in bowls, putting them at 4-13 in three years.  Ouch.  Still, though, K-State finished in third in the final AP Poll, with Mizzou and ATM both in the #10-13 range.  Thanks to the top tier, and Texas' sudden resurgence, things are looking much better for this young conference.

Of course, Mizzou is about to completely and totally fall off the map, even if Mizzou fans, in total denial (I know I was), don't know it yet.


No Corby and Devin, no problem, right?  I know that's what I thought at the time.  Yeah, they were really good, but ... recruiting improves with winning, so the next guys will be just as good!  Or not.  Mizzou held steady until Kirk Farmer's gruesome broken leg, then the offense completely and totally disappeared.

In 1999, the South began to put things together.  Texas' ship was being righted, and Texas A&M was still looked upon very favorably.  K-State lost so many difference-makers that they once again started ranked rather low (and once again proved doubters wrong).  Meanwhile, Nebraska (#6) and Colorado (#15) were both once again featured prominently in the polls.  Without them, the New Big 12 once again had only three ranked teams to start the season.

Preseason Rankings
#7 Texas A&M
#17 Texas
#20 Kansas State

Missouri Schedule & Results
9/4 UAB W, 31-28
9/11 Baylor W, 49-26
9/18 Western Michigan W, 48-34
9/25 Texas L, 10-29
10/2 at Memphis W, 27-17
10/9 at Oklahoma State L, 38-41
10/16 Iowa State L, 21-24
10/23 at Kansas L, 0-21
10/30 Texas Tech W, 34-7
11/6 at Oklahoma L, 0-37
11/13 Texas A&M L, 14-51
11/20 at Kansas State L, 0-66
5-7 (2-7)

Upon beating Memphis, Mizzou is 4-1 on the season.  That makes them 28-8 since the end of October 1996.  It looks like the "sleeping giant" has officially awakened, and a mini-dynasty of sorts is being established in Columbia.  Then Mizzou loses 15 of their next 19.  Ouch.

Big 12ish Standings
Team Conf.
Kansas State 9-0 12-0 11-1 (+1)
Texas 7-2 10-3 9-5 (+1.5)
Oklahoma 6-3 8-4 7-5 (+1)
Texas A&M 6-3 9-3 8-4 (+1)
Oklahoma State 5-4 7-5 5-6 (+1.5)
Texas Tech 5-4 6-6 6-5 (-0.5)
Kansas 3-6 5-8 5-7 (-0.5)
Iowa State 2-7 5-7 4-7 (+0.5)
Missouri 2-7 5-7 4-7 (+0.5)
Baylor 0-9 1-11 1-10 (-0.5)

Once again, Kansas State is untouchable atop the New Big 12.  They have now gone 47-1 in the regular season since the conference's inception.  Insane.  Meanwhile, Texas has begun to put things together, and Oklahoma has risen from the dead in Bob Stoops' first season.

So K-State enters the bowl season with a shot at the national title, for the third time in four season.  The Bill Snyder reclamation project that has become so revered in real life has taken on an even more epic aura in the alternate world of the New Big 12.  Can they break through and actually win the title this time?  No.


Sugar: #1 Florida State 38, #2 Kansas State 27
Cotton: #24 Arkansas 27, #12 Texas 6
Holiday: Oklahoma 24, Washington 21
Alamo: #13 Penn State 24, #15 Texas A&M 0
Independence: Ole Miss 28, Oklahoma State 20
Insight: #25 Boston College 26, Texas Tech 21

That's right.  K-State loses another title bid, and the New Big 12 once again sucks eggs in the postseason, going 1-5 in bowls.  That puts them at 5-18 since 1996.  Ugh.

Meanwhile, Mizzou's fall is no less precipitous in Alternate 1999.  And it's not going to get any better in 2000.


People often talk about the Big Ten's lackluster performance in bowl games through the years.  Part of that is because their bowl affiliations are, honestly, a little too good.  Their bowl participants are almost always ranked lower than their opponents, meaning they have to pull some upsets to finish over .500.  We see a very similar trend with the New Big 12.  Assuming again that they retain the Holiday Bowl, that means that they have sent unranked teams to face ranked opponents six times in four postseasons.  In 17 bowls with at least one ranked team, their team has been the lower-ranked squad 13 times.  The conference has not yet developed any consistent depth.  But with Mack Brown and Bob Stoops on the scene now (in 2000, Brown was entering his fourth season in Austin, Stoops his second in Norman), things begin to change.  And it all starts with the Sooners.

After a solid 1999 campaign, OU is ranked in the preseason for the first time in over half a decade.  To say the least, they make the most of it.  Meanwhile, Texas and Kansas State are both in the top ten; while Nebraska is the preseason #1, the New Big 12 is still taking steps toward respectability.

Missouri, on the other hand, clearly is not.  It is Larry Smith's lame duck season, and not even offensive guru Bill Cubit can improve things.

Preseason Rankings
#7 Texas
#8 Kansas State
#19 Oklahoma

Missouri Schedule & Results
9/2 Western Illinois W, 50-20
9/9 at Clemson L, 9-62
9/16 Michigan State L, 10-13
9/23 at Texas A&M
L, 13-30
9/30 at Texas Tech
L, 21-35
10/7 Oklahoma State W, 24-10
10/14 Kansas L, 17-38
10/21 at Texas L, 12-46
10/28 at Iowa State L, 20-39
11/4 Oklahoma L, 10-46
11/11 at Baylor W, 47-22
11/18 Kansas State L, 24-28
3-9 (2-7)

You could make the case that, since Mizzou doesn't play Nebraska, Kirk Farmer therefore doesn't break his collar bone, and he is available to lead an improving offense the entire season.  But Farmer never made it through an entire season healthy, so I don't know why we'd think he would have anyway.  Fate says he breaks his collar bone anyway, and the offense (already with grind-it-out personnel adapting to the spread) just doesn't have enough juice to get anything accomplished.  The three tough September road trips start the trend, and aside from a late surge (47 points against Baylor and a helluva fight against Kansas State), there just isn't much life here.  As he did in real life, Larry Smith is dumped directly after the Kansas State game.

Big 12ish Standings
Team Conf.
Oklahoma 9-0 12-0 13-0 (-0.5)
Kansas State 7-2 11-2 11-3 (+0.5)
Texas 7-2 9-3 9-3 (+0)
Texas A&M 7-2 9-3 7-5 (+2)
Texas Tech 5-4 9-4 7-6 (+2)
Iowa State 4-5 7-5 9-3 (-2)
Kansas 2-7 4-8 4-7 (-0.5)
Oklahoma State 2-7 4-8 3-8 (+0.5)
Missouri 2-7 3-9 3-8 (-0.5)
Baylor 0-9 2-10 2-9 (-0.5)

The Proj. F/+ numbers absolutely love this OU team, and obviously none of their new opponents would have been able to mount much of a challenge.  OU still coasts to the BCS Championship Game...


Orange: #1 Oklahoma 13, #3 Florida State 2
Cotton: #11 Kansas State 35, #21 Tennessee 21
Holiday: #8 Oregon 35, #12 Texas 30
Alamo: Texas A&M 30, #18 Northwestern 27
Independence: Mississippi State 34, Texas Tech 28
Insight: Iowa State 37, Pittsburgh 29

...and still wins it.  K-State, meanwhile, loses twice in the regular season for the first time since the Big 8 was still in existence.

In all, the conference's depth starts to show here.  Iowa State is improving, and they kickstart what becomes a 4-2 postseason campaign for the much-maligned New Big 12.  Between the four wins and OU's national title, perceptions of this conference begin to change.

Next up: The Pinkel Era.