The debate over which conference is the best in college football has been going on for years, more so in the past 14 years, not coincidentally the time frame that the much maligned Bowl Championship Series has been the judge and jury of the NCAA's major football fiefdom.
The two conferences that have been at the center of that debate, practically every year, are the Big 12 and the Southeastern Conference. Yes, we're speaking of the same southern-fried conference that offered safe haven to Missouri and Texas A&M, two Big 12 schools that ostensibly feared for the short- and long-term stability of the Big 12 and thus bolted for the perceived greener pastures of the SEC.
Missouri and A&M are largely football schools, but they will find the competition even stronger in the SEC. Meanwhile, the Big 12 is adding TCU and West Virginia, two schools with an even higher BCS pedigree than the teams that are leaving. All of this adds up to a Big 12 Conference that projects to be even better and stronger in football than ever before.
Instead of analytical comparisons looking at such factors as won-lost record, strength of schedule and the strength of schedule of the opponents played, it will be nice to be able to be able to settle the discussion to some extent by what happens when the top teams from both conferences meet on the football field in a championship setting. Based on an agreement announced Friday by officials of both the Big 12 and SEC, the champions of both conferences will meet in a bowl game beginning in 2014.
The agreement is for five years and calls for the champion of the Big 12 to play the champion of the SEC in a New Year's Day bowl game, unless one or both teams are named to play in the new four-team playoff model that is being worked out to replace the BCS as the means of determining which two schools should play for the national championship. And that's the big caveat that takes some of the shine off this landmark bowl agreement, in my opinion.
If you look at recent history, the SEC has had a representative in the BCS Championship game eight of the 14 years the current selection system has been in place, and the SEC has come out the winner in all eight. An unprecedented two SEC teams (Alabama and LSU) played in the 2012 National Championship earlier this year, marking the only title game in the BCS era in which an SEC team has been on the losing end.
The Big 12 has had a participant in seven BCS Championship games, winning two of the seven (Oklahoma in 2000 and Texas in 2006). Oklahoma, from the Big 12, has appeared in four national title games under the BCS system. The next most appearances by a team from either conference is LSU with three.
In the 14 years of the BCS, the Big 12 and SEC lead all conferences with 11 seasons in which both leagues have had at least one team ranked in the top four of the final BCS standings. Both conferences share the top spot since the 1998 season, when the BCS was introduced, with 14 teams each that have finished in the top four at the end of the regular season.
The point I am making is, if recent history is an accurate reflection of the future, a bowl matchup pitting the champions of both conferences is not likely to happen unless it is in the soon-to-be-unveiled national championship playoffs and/or national title game. That wouldn't be such a bad deal, either, to be perfectly honest. But it does water down the aforementioned New Year's Day bowl matchup.
For example, had a four-team playoff format been in effect last season, Oklahoma State, the Big 12 champions, and LSU, the SEC champion were among the top four teams in the final BCS standings, as was Alabama, the eventual 2012 national champs.
Because of that outcome, the Big 12-SEC bowl matchup under the new agreement between the conferences was and would have been between Kansas State (10-2), the runner-up in the Big 12 and ranked eighth in the BCS vs. Arkansas (10-2), the No. 6-ranked team, which lost to LSU in SEC championship game last season. This was the actual 2012 Cotton Bowl matchup, won by Arkansas.
Going back one year to the 2010 season, which crowned undefeated and untied Auburn as the national champion, the Big 12 champion, Oklahoma, which finished the season ranked seventh in the BCS, would have played Arkansas, the second best team in the SEC and No. 8 in the final BCS rankings, in a bowl game.
Another resounding factor in the in the debate over which league is the best is the SEC's total dominance against Big 12 opponents. In five BCS Championship games pairing representative of the two leagues, the SEC holds a 3-0 advantage. In the BCS era, SEC teams have won 32 of 50 against schools from the Big 12. Teams from the Big Eight Conference, which preceded the Big 12, actually fared much better vs. the SEC. The two conferences split 86 games between 1957-1995 and there were six that ended in ties.
It certainly would be great to have a guaranteed bowl matchup between Big 12 and SEC teams, but it probably won't settle the score of which conference is better because it most likely will not be between the two best teams.
Keep up on all of the Big 12 news and news affecting all of its member teams at SB Nation Kansas City.