The metaphor is fully accepted, but in real life cupcakes are delicious, filling, and satisfying, and depending on the baker you always want more. For another college football opening weekend, the cupcake games have left everyone disappointed and not wanting another bite. There is a resounding hope and prayer that there will be a modern version of the 2007 Appalachian St v Michigan game, but this Labor Day Saturday, like so many before it, were games topped with chalk frosting. The top-25 went 21-4. Of those 4 losses, 3 of them were to other top-25 teams. The lone loss that came at the hands of an unranked opponent was #7 Utah losing by 3 to Florida in Gainesville. Even though the Gators aren’t national championship contenders, the Swamp is no walk in the park. This type of weekend isn’t atypical. Ranked teams are judged at this point by point spread because there’s no other way to judge Miami v Bethune-Cookman or Texas A&M v Sam Houston. Despite dreamers dreaming, we continue to live in the era where Alabama is still Alabama and everyone else is wishing they were. #2 Ohio State and #3 Georgia made statements over Notre Dame and Oregon respectively, being 2 of the 3 top-25 teams that actually played a ranked opponent, but here we are again, Week 1 and it’s the same song and dance with the same singers and dancers that it’s been since the CFP started. With the two SEC giants and Ohio State being the only teams that matter when it comes to playoff runs, how is it that the poor, helpless Big 12 is still a winner?
Of the Power Five conferences, the Big 12 and the ACC have always been the little sisters of the poor in regards to football influence. Each have had some moments thanks to Clemson (2016 and 2018) and Texas (2005) reaching the pinnacle and Oklahoma being a consistent top-tier team, but they’re outliers within their own conference. Texas and Oklahoma are heading for the SEC with their replacements being Houston, BYU, Cincinnati, and UCF within the Big 12, but Week 1 has started to show how the Big 12 made moves that will pay dividends sooner than the sporting world believes, especially as the CFP expands to 12 teams by 2026. Even though we’re a year or two away from teams officially competing under their new banners, we know that the SEC is adding 2, the Big 10 the same, and the Big 12 is jumping 4. Even this season isn’t reflecting the new structure we have the begin to analyze these conferences in that way to make future projections.
This isn’t an argument that the Big 12 is on a level playing field with the SEC or somehow more formidable than the Big 10 just because it added competitive programs, but it is a sample size of what’s to come, which is consistently being sat at the big table. Barring a tipped ball turned pick 6 by M.J. Devonshire, West Virginia upsets #17 Pitt and the new Big 12 goes 11-1 in Week 1. Even Kansas won a football game this weekend. The only other “Big 12” loss came from future member Cincinnati going on the road to #19 Arkansas and waiting until halftime to remember how to play football before ultimately falling by a touchdown. As quality competition grows, invitations for cross-conference games do too because strength of schedule will always matter, especially for teams outside the top 4. When more spots in the CFP become available each win will still carry much weight, but each loss can be assuaged depending on who it’s against and what they do in their conference. If you’re trying to snag those 10-12 slots in the playoff, a loss to Power 5 team that is above .500 will boost your resume more than a home win against UL Monroe. This means that other quality teams will start knocking on the Big 12’s door for early season games. Higher profile games, opportunity for a conference championship, and a chance for a shot in the College Football Playoff are pitches that all coaches want to sell, but not every team in every conference can honestly say that to a recruit. The competitive parity that is brewing in the Big 12 gives more teams in the conference that honest pitch. This creates even higher opportunity for competition within conference, but opens the door for early season upsets in their favor against SEC and Big 10 teams.
Even by interpreting the landscape with Oklahoma and Texas in the SEC, and USC and UCLA in the Big 10, the Big 12 still boasted 5 top-25 teams on opening weekend including Oklahoma State and Baylor in the top-15 and the transplants of Cincinnati, BYU and Houston rounding out the rankings. None of those 5 teams will win the national championship any time soon, but it creates relevancy. The ACC also showed 5 ranked teams while the once revered Pac 12 only had 2 with Utah losing and Oregon getting embarrassed. The future of the Pac 12 is very much in flux and the ACC is a mystery. I have my thoughts and it doesn’t look good for either. Coaches are building schedules years in advance and now they have to adjust their path to the playoff since those gates are opening much wider. With the Big 12 rising, top-25 teams will start looking to the Big 12 to bolster their resume. The recruiting mantra will grow even stronger and eventually the headlines will read “Upset” as the Big 12 lays claim to victims outside it’s on conference that are in the top-25. This will then turn the tide to the Big 12 allowing them to dictate their own destiny. The future for the Big 12 is no longer a conference of basketball schools playing football, the future is a delicious weekend of college football that matters; one that is sweet and satisfying and makes you want to stuff your face with more.