A win over Texas on Saturday night and sixth-ranked Kansas State can claim the Big 12 title and automatic berth into the Fiesta Bowl.
That’s without playing in an actual league title game.
Yet, K-State coach Bill Snyder said he still favors a 12-team league with divisions and that championship game that has been both bad and good to the Wildcats in the past.
“I am still a proponent of having two divisions and playing a championship game,” Snyder said Tuesday. “Sometimes it works out in a positive way and sometimes, as has been the case in our conference, it hasn’t. I know this — I know there are a number of programs in our conference that have and would profit from having the system. We certainly did.”
This is true. Three times K-State won the Big 12 North Division, twice losing in the conference title game. But perhaps the most painful loss in K-State history for fans came in 1998 when the Wildcats were edged 36-33 in overtime by Texas A&M, costing K-State a chance at playing for the national title. In 2003, however, the game worked to the Wildcats’ advantage when they upset No. 1 Oklahoma and played in the Fiesta Bowl.
“We have two trophy cases out there and if we didn’t have two divisions, that would probably be a single trophy case because we had the opportunity to compete for divisional championships and then play for championships.”
Snyder pointed to the 2009 season as an example of how the Big 12 championship game could have helped his team if it had won the regular season finale at Nebraska. A win over the Huskers and the Wildcats would have represented the North Division. Instead, K-State finished 6-6 and missed out on a bowl.
“When I first came back, we were a 6-6 football team, not a very good football team,” he said. “But the last game of the season, we were playing for a divisional championship. That has some meaning… With that system, teams were still in the hunt.”
All of this talk about the Big 12 someday moving back to 12 teams has gained some steam in the past two weeks because of more conference realignments taking place.
Just last week both Rutgers announced it was leaving the Big East and Maryland was leaving the ACC to join the Big Ten. And this week, we learned Tulane and East Carolina would be joining the Big East in 2013.
When the Big 12 lost Missouri and Texas A&M following last season, it welcomed in West Virginia and TCU. Though TCU is in the heart of Big 12 country, the same can’t be said for the Mountaineers, who now stretch the league’s footprint all the way to the East Coast.
If the Big 12 did choose to expand again, finding appropriate teams close to home would again be a problem, something Snyder acknowledges. It still doesn’t change the fact that he would prefer to see a 12-team Big 12 again.
“That’s the fly in the ointment, the travel,” Snyder said. “When you look at entire athletic programs, everybody has to make those long trips, just like West Virginia has to make those long trips… Is there a way? I don’t know. I’m one of 10, but I haven’t been on a soapbox campaigning for it. I know that if it did go to 12, that would be a difficult process identifying how the logistics would work and which teams would come in.”
K-State athletic director John Currie said that while the topic of conference realignment comes up at nearly every board of directors meeting with the league, any move the Big 12 might make has to be the right one.
“We talk about expansion all the time,” he said. “We talk about it in our regular weekly conference calls with the board of directors. We’ll talk about it this week. But when you get down to the factors of why to expand, there aren’t all the obvious reasons, other than to say, ‘everybody else is doing it, so why shouldn’t we do it too?’”
Currie pointed out that the Big 12 has nine of its 10 member schools bowl eligible going into the final week of the season. On the flipside, the SEC, which is widely considered the best league in America, was top-heavy in 2012. The bottom eight teams in the SEC are a combined 0-30 against the top six teams in the league, one of which will play Notre Dame in the national title game.
“Right now we are where we are with a very strong 10-team league — 90 percent of the teams in our league are bowl eligible right now and that’s something nobody else in college football has,” Currie said. “There are a couple leagues out there people talk about being great leagues that have a couple schools with no wins in the conference that have helped build the resumes of other teams.”
Fiesta or Sugar
To guarantee a spot in the Fiesta Bowl, K-State has to defeat the Longhorns on Saturday night. That we know. But there is some talk that the Wildcats could wind up playing in a BCS game no matter what.
There’s no doubt the Big 12 wants two teams in BSC bowls, one being Oklahoma if it defeats TCU on Saturday, and the other likely being K-State. If both the Wildcats and Sooners win this weekend, both would finish 10-2 and atop the Big 12.
But its been said Oklahoma is tired of playing in the Fiesta Bowl and would rather go to the Sugar Bowl. If that occurred, the Fiesta Bowl could take K-State anyway, working out a swap so to speak.
Working to K-State’s advantage is that the SEC, which has six teams in the BCS top 10, can only get two teams into the BCS bowl games. The other four are left out.
Oregon is likely headed to the Fiesta Bowl and the Florida should go to the Sugar Bowl over the the loser of the SEC title game. The Pac-12 title game loser is also out of the BCS.
That leaves K-State as a viable candidate to still take one of the BCS at-large spots even if it loses on Saturday.
“Certainly if there’s a scenario to put two Big 12 teams in the BCS, I think our conference deserves it and has earned the consideration,” Currie said. “From our perspective, one of the advantages the Big 12 has is that we have a reputation of traveling and buying tickets and showing up and supporting.”
But a year ago, K-State’s reputation for traveling meant nothing to the Sugar Bowl, which selected Michigan to play against a Virginia Tech team that lost in its conference title game — two teams ranked below K-State in the BCS on Selection Sunday.
Though Currie wouldn’t acknowledge contact with the bowl reps, he said the Big 12 would do whatever it can do to assure all of its bowl-eligible teams the right fit when the bowl selections are announced this Sunday night.
“The conference does a great job advocating for all the conference schools on our behalf because this is the toughest conference in America — top to bottom — the deepest conference,” he said. “I believe our conference is deserving of as much recognition as it can achieve.”