Big 12 positioned well for football playoffs despite what some say

big 12 logo

To stir up debate, some college football analysts have suggested the lack of a Big 12 Championship game will hurt the league’s prospects for an invite to the College Football Playoff.

In the 16-year history of the Bowl Championship Series, nearly half (15) of the 32 schools that played in the national championship game did not win/have a league title game.

Only seven of the championship game participants – six from the SEC – defeated an opponent ranked in the nation’s Top Ten in their conference title game to get a significant victory right before national title teams were picked.

Of the seven Big 12 schools that participated in a BCS title game, only one defeated a Top Ten opponent in the conference championship game.

• 2000: Oklahoma defeated #8 Kansas State
• 2001: Nebraska did not play in a league title game
• 2003: Oklahoma lost to #15 Kansas State
• 2004: Oklahoma defeated unranked Colorado
• 2005: Texas defeated unranked Colorado
• 2008: Oklahoma defeated #19 Missouri
• 2009: Texas defeated #21 Nebraska

It’s sort of hard to make the argument that a conference championship game is the springboard to the national title game. History doesn’t support that theory.

Twice in the last three years, one of the schools in the national title game made it there without a league championship game. I also wonder how much…

• Tennessee’s win over 23rd-rated Mississippi State in the 1998 SEC Championship Game strengthened its resume for the first BCS championship game.
• Florida State’s win over 20th-ranked Duke in the 2013 ACC Championship Game pushed them into last year’s title match-up.

The point is that league championship games aren’t the end all, be all for playoff consideration.

The BCS (between its voters/polls and computers) chose who they considered to be the top two teams for the title game. Most years, in most people’s opinions, they got it right. The new College Football Playoff Committee will do the same.

The 13-person committee charged with picking the participants for the College Football Playoff should be looking at total resumes. There shouldn’t be concern that the Big 12 won’t receive the proper consideration.

Richardson all the better from competition; Rohach, too

Richardson, Sam B_Texas_2013-14_4

Competition can be a great teacher.

When Coach Paul Rhoads announced Monday that Sam Richardson would be the Cyclones’ starting QB, it was the second season in a row he was tabbed the starter.

His climb to No. 1 this year was much different than his path to the top of the depth chart in 2013.

When spring camp opened in ’13, Richardson was coming off three games as the primary quarterback at the end of his freshman season.

And when Jared Barnett decided to transfer in January that year, it left Richardson as the only QB on the depth chart with any playing experience. Chance Creekmur, Trevor Hodge, Brandon Horbach, Joel Lanning and Grant Rohach were the other QBs on the roster.

Although Richardson had played well to close his rookie season, there was no experienced competition.

Fast forward to this spring.

Richardson and Rohach were coming off a season in which they shared playing time. Toss in a new coordinator (Mark Mangino) and a different QB coach (Todd Sturdy) and the table was set for a true competition to earn the starting slot in 2014.

There was a month-long audition between the two – along with Lanning – for the position. Richardson’s daily performance in the last couple of weeks nudged him ahead of Rohach.

Rhoads cited a list of things that Richardson improved upon since last year. He also pointed out that Rohach is a much better player, too, than he was in his freshman season.

Iowa State has two QBs with Big 12 wins on their resumes. That’s a good thing.

Beyond being battle tested and proven winners, they’ve also competed for playing time. That competition accelerated development and that means ISU’s quarterback position is in better shape now that any point in Rhoads’ tenure.

Burnham’s “spirited” group playing aggressively

Burnham, Wally_Rutgers2011-1
Most of the words being written and said about Iowa State’s 2014 defensive football team are terms like young and inexperienced.

Each is true. But Coach Paul Rhoads is thinking something different.

“People are going to get sick of me saying it, but spirited is what they are,” Rhoads said. “They’re young, but they work. They’re young, but they fly around the field. They’re young, but they’re anxious to learn what it is that will make them better.”

Teaching and coaching is what will make them more successful.

“There’s no one better than the veteran Wally Burnham to get things taught,” Rhoads said of his defensive coordinator.

Burnham hinted that an attitude has emerged with this group.

“These kids read what’s been said about the defense,” Burnham said. “And, they’ve taken it as a challenge.”

The result has been a more aggressive approach.

“We’ve been an aggressive, hard-charging defense,” Burnham said. “It might be the most aggressive defense we’ve had (at Iowa State).”

Maybe by year’s end the descriptors of the defense will change from young and inexperienced to aggressive and successful.
Burnham is the kind of guy to help usher that type of transformation.

50:50 run/pass? Mangino’s track record says yes.

Mangino, Mark2_SpringGame14

Mark Mangino will be calling the offensive plays at Iowa State this fall. There is a lot of interest and intrigue as to what the script of plays might look like.

Will the Cyclones be pass heavy? Will ISU feature the run?

In Coach Paul Rhoads’ tenure, the Cyclones have run the ball nearly 54% of the time.

What will the mix be for the 2014 Cyclones?

At media day, Mangino said his team can’t “be throwing the ball all of the time.”

Like most coaches, he said he’s seeking balance.

“It’s really a 50:50 ratio,” Mangino said. “That’s our challenge here.”

Is that coach-speak or is that the true goal?

Perhaps, the best indicator of the future is the past. As the head coach at Kansas for eight years, the Jayhawks ran the ball 3,541 times. KU passed the ball 3,504 times.

The run-pass ratio was 50.2% (runs) to 49.8% (throws). In other words, 50:50 give or take a fraction of a percentage point.

Five times the Jayhawks ran the ball more in a season and three times (including the final two years), they threw it more.

So much is dependent upon the skills of the players, the opponents’ defenses and other variables.

If Mangino’s personal history is any indicator, the ISU offense will be fairly balanced. If Mangino’s personal history is a good predictor of the future, it will be a productive attack, too.

Big 12 well positioned: league games influence schedule strength the most

When the new College Football Playoff was unveiled last year, much of the talk centered on how the selection committee would pick the participants.

Schedule strength became a frequently discussed topic.

Some of the sport’s heavyweights started scheduling one another for future non-league games. That is part of the equation for schedule strength.

But, conference play (especially the round-robin variety) is also part of the equation. And, realistically it is a bigger part.

Because conference schedules include eight or nine games in a year rather than one (such as a non-conference battle with a strong foe or a league title game), it’s obvious that a strong division / league schedule influences strength of schedule the most.

With all of that as a backdrop, the most pertinent question may be, “what conference / division is the strongest?”

That will be decided on the field, but – for fun – here is a list of the best Power 5 leagues in order of winning percentages (data from in the last five years:

• SEC West (.662) – Alabama, LSU, Auburn, A&M, Arkansas, Mississippi State, Ole Miss
• Big 12 (.608) – Baylor, ISU, KU, K-State, Oklahoma, Okie St., Texas, TCU, Tech, West Virginia
• SEC East (.567) – South Carolina, Florida, Missouri, Georgia, Tennessee, Vandy, Kentucky
• ACC Atlantic (.563) – FSU, Clemson, Louisville, N.C. State, Syracuse, BC, Wake Forest
• Pac-12 North (.562) – Oregon, Stanford, Washington, Oregon State, Cal, Washington State

Seven (of the 10) programs in the Big 12 have won more than 60% of their games since ’09. The SEC West and East (4-of-7) and ACC Atlantic (3-of-7) have the next most teams with 60-percent or higher win rates in the last five campaigns.

Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher summarized it well on Sirius XM Radio last week when he concluded an interview by saying the Big 12 probably does it the right way.

In the Big 12 if Oklahoma and Baylor were the top two teams (and didn’t have a championship game), you can still look back to their match-up during the regular season as a tie-breaker.

In the SEC, say that Alabama and South Carolina qualify for their championship game. There is a decent chance those schools didn’t face each other in a cross division match-up so the title game merely fixes what didn’t happen in the regular season. And, if the title game is a second meeting between the schools there will be all sorts of grumbling about having to beat a team a second time.

You’ll get no disagreement in Big 12 country, Jimbo, that the Big 12 has positioned itself well for its champion to get proper playoff consideration.

One True Champion


One True Champion.

The Big 12’s new slogan rolls off the tongue easily.

Say it slower by adding a pause between words and the Big 12’s new slogan starts to define itself as each word takes on its proper significance.

 One… True… Champion…

Italicize the middle word and the Big 12’s new slogan distinguishes the league from all of the other major conferences because of how it determines champions.

One True Champion.

Read that phrase aloud with a heavy emphasis on true.

One True Champion.

The Big 12’s tagline is built around the concept that …

  • playing everybody is a good thing;
  • trophies are awarded for who you beat, not who you don’t play;
  • champions are determined in competition, not through computer logarithms that randomly select opponents;

Round-robin schedules assure that the winners of regular-season titles in the Big 12 are true champions based on real results.

Power rankings and strength of schedule don’t matter as much in the Big 12. When everybody plays everybody, it’s about wins and losses (and, if necessary, head-to-head match-ups as a tie breaker).

In the ACC, SEC and Big Ten this fall, schools will not face five of their league peers on the gridiron. In the Pac-12, each of the dozen members will miss two of their conference partners on the football field in ‘14. The result is skewed schedule strength and debate.

All of the Big 12 schools play the other nine league members. No exceptions.

One True Champion.

There’s a beauty in that simplicity.

Spring season spurs Cyclones to 38th in Directors’ Cup standings

For only the second time in its history, the Iowa State Athletics Department finished in the Top 40 of the nation’s most-successful athletics departments from a competitive standpoint.

The 2014 Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup final tally has the Cyclones in 38th place with 585.75 points. The school’s all-time best finish is 34th in 2010.

Iowa State had the fifth-best finish among Big 12 schools and tops in the state of Iowa.

The school earned 160 points in the spring season, which equaled its all-time record. The women’s track & field (60), women’s golf (51) and men’s golf (49) accounted for the spring points. ISU had averaged only 46 points in the spring season previously.

Iowa State also earned points from wrestling (64.5), men’s basketball (64), women’s cross country (63), gymnastics (59.25), women’s indoor track & field (51.5), men’s indoor track & field (46.5), men’s cross country (27), women’s basketball (25) and volleyball (25).


A decade of change from a Cyclone Athletics competitive perspective


Ten years ago, Facebook was launched as a social network site open only to students at Harvard. Today, it has more than 1,230,000,000 active members in countries spanning the globe.

 Ten years ago, the average price for a gallon of regular unleaded fuel was $1.90 (per AAA). Today, that cost has increased to $3.66.

Ten years ago, Lance Armstrong won his sixth Tour de France race. Today, his accomplishments are viewed with skepticism.

Ten years ago, Iowa State finished last in the Big 12 All-sports standings. This year, the Cyclones climbed to an all-time record fifth place.

ISU sponsored 18 sports in 2003-04 and it still does today. Fifteen of those programs had the same or a better league finish this season than they did a decade ago.

Here is a comparison of ISU’s conference standing then (10 years ago) and now (this year):

  • Men’s Basketball – 8th then, 3rd now
  • Women’s Basketball – 7th then, 5th now
  • Men’s Cross Country – 11th then, 2nd now
  • Women’s Cross Country – 11th then, 1st now
  • Football – 12th then, 7th now
  • Men’s Golf – 8th then, 4th now
  • Women’s Golf – 11th then, 4th now
  • Gymnastics – 2nd then, 2nd now
  • Men’s Indoor Track & Field – 10th then, 6th now
  • Women’s Indoor Track & Field – 10th then, 4th now
  • Men’s Outdoor Track & Field – 7th then, 9th now
  • Women’s Outdoor Track & Field – 11th then, 6th now
  • Soccer – 9th then, 4th now
  • Softball – 9th then, 7th now
  • Swimming & Diving – 5th then, 3rd now
  • Tennis – 12th then, 9th now
  • Volleyball – 8th then, 3rd now
  • Wrestling – 3rd then, 3rd now

Change can be good.

In the case of ISU Athletics, the last decade has been one of continued improvement.

Half of ISU’s teams were Top 25 this year (a decade ago, only two)


People love to rank things.

Where are the best places to live or eat? What is your favorite team? Who are you preferred music groups or entertainers?

In college sports, the focus revolves around the Top 25. With that as the foundation, how did Iowa State Athletics fair in the 2013-14 athletics season?

Half (9-of-18) of the Cyclone teams registered Top 25 finishes in their final polls or in their national championship competitions.

Here is the full list:

  • Cross Country (women’s): 7th in the final USTFCCA poll;
  • Basketball (men’s): 9th in the final Associated Press poll;
  • Wrestling: 12th at the 2014 NCAA Championship;
  • Outdoor Track & Field (women’s): 15th at the 2014 NCAA Championship;
  • Indoor Track & Field (women’s): 20th in the final USTFCCA poll;
  • Gymnastics: 21st in the final GymInfo poll;
  • Golf (women’s): 23rd at the 2014 NCAA Championship;
  • Indoor Track & Field (men’s): 23rd in the final USTFCCA poll;
  • Golf (men’s): 25th at the NCAA Championship;

The volleyball (27th in the final AVCA poll) and men’s cross country (32nd in their final poll) teams just missed the Top 25 cutoff.

Consider this for perspective… one decade ago (2003-04), gymnastics and wrestling were the only Top 25 programs at Iowa State.

It’s been a good 10 years of progress.

What will it look like in another quarter century?

The Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) claims to be the oldest collegiate athletics conference in the nation. It began play in 1888.

Today, the NCAA Division III league features nine schools today, including seven from Michigan. The non-Michigan schools are St. Mary’s and Trine, which joined the conference more than 100 years after its founding. It was definitely Michigan-centric at the start.

But, it’s a new day with conference affiliations as memberships cross state borders more than ever before. The days of seven schools in Michigan joining hands are long gone.

There are positives (“bigger geographical foot print” touted by some) and negatives (loss of “traditional” rivalries and/or forced creation of “new” rivalries) as conference borders expand.

The point of this blog isn’t to suggest that one model is better than the other, but rather it’s a refresher on what “was” and what “is” from a conference alignment standpoint.

Twenty-five years ago (1989), there were nine leagues playing big-school college football. Geography was a key factor in aligning the schools.

Most interestingly, 25 schools were football independents in ‘89. That list included Miami, Florida State, Penn State, Pitt, Syracuse, West Virginia, South Carolina, Virginia Tech, Louisville, Rutgers and Boston College among others. This fall, there will be six independents in Division 1A.

The number of states represented in each league has mushroomed in the last quarter century.


Atlantic Coast Conference: schools from 5 different states

Big 8 / Southwest Conferences: schools from 8 different states (6 in the Big 8 and 2 in the SWC)

Big Ten Conference: schools from 7 different states

Pac-10 Conference: schools from 4 different states

Southeastern Conference: schools from 7 different states

This fall

ACC: 9 states represented; Big 12: 5 states; Big Ten: 11 states; Pac-12: 6 states; and SEC: 11 states

The ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and SEC have all added representation from new states in the last 25 years. The Big 12 today has fewer states in its membership than what the Big 8 / SWC had a quarter century ago.

Is bigger (as in “footprint”) better? It is a personal preference. The real question is, what will things look like 25 years from now?