This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.
As I said Monday, I haven't been a lifer when it comes to the Big XII, but that doesn't mean I'm completely oblivious to the conference's prestigious history. Not surprisingly, much of this history comes from the kingpin of college sports (at least financially): football. Combine that fact with the fact that EA Sports NCAA Football 2011 is arguably the best football game about to be released next week, and I felt compelled to include basketball and football in this note on Big XII history.
As most people know, the Big XII reached its almost current state when the Big 8 added four Texas schools (Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and Baylor) from the imploded Southwest Conference in 1996. The Big 8 (or Missouri Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Association as it was called back in the day) included only three Big 8 schools (Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri) when it was founded in 1907. Quickly, Iowa State (1908) and K-State (1913) joined the ranks, Nebraska took a short leave of absence, and Oklahoma joined by 1919. Oklahoma State (when it was still Oklahoma A&M) joined briefly in 1925, and it permanently joined in 1958. Colorado was the last piece of the Big 8 puzzle, joining in 1947.
Needless to say, the conference has had its share of history over the past century. See the greatest moments in conference history, team by team, after the jump.
For simplicity's sake, I'm ordering teams by when they entered the conference.
Texas A&M Aggies (1996): 1998 Big XII Football Champions
The Aggies have had a fairly mediocre basketball history that seems to be on the rise. They've certainly had their moments, but most Aggies' fans are in it for the football. The football team was dominant during much of its time in the Southwest Conference, including a National Championship in 1939. Unfortunately for A&M, this is a Big XII blog, so my eyes are set to only notice things after 1996. Luckily, a couple years after coming to the conference, Texas A&M stole the Big XII championship in dramatic fashion from Kansas State in overtime. To quote the ecstatic announcer, "Oh Doctor."
Baylor Bears (1996): 2009-2010 Men's Basketball Season
Unfortunately, much of Baylor's short Big XII history has been marred by one of the darkest scandals in college basketball history. Dave Bliss' coverup of Patrick Dennehy's murder is one of the lowest points in college athletics. Let's not dwell on that part of the past; Baylor's program was punished severely (and not unjustly), and Bliss resigned after the incident. Since then, Scott Drew has made one of the most incredible turnarounds in college sports, bringing Baylor's program to the highest tier. The Bears' 2009-2010 season was truly incredible to watch, as the once infamous program returned to national prominence. They performed best at the highest stage, defeating the aforementioned Texas A&M to reach the Elite Eight (where they gave eventual champion Duke all it could handle). And this year's squad should be another quality team, bringing back LaceDarius Dunn to lead the heralded recruit, Perry Jones. Season highlights.
Texas Longhorns (1996): 2006 Rose Bowl victory over USC
One of best games I can ever remember watching, the 2006 Rose Bowl was truly a battle of titans. Texas and USC were both stacked teams that matched up well against one another. USC's only close call came at Notre Dame when they won by three (all of these wins have since been vacated). Similarly, Texas' only close game came at Ohio State, when they only won by a field goal. USC's roster sported 7 AP All-Americans including Heisman winner Reggie Bush and former winner Matt Leinart. Texas also had 7 AP All-Americans led by Vince Young. To say the game had serious hype is to say Frank Martin has a serious stare. The game was built up to be an epic battle, and it lived up to the pregame show: Leinart out-threw Young significantly, Bush and White rushed for more than Texas running backs. But Vince Young ran for 200 yards, averaging more than ten yards per rush, for three touchdowns. It was an unbelievable performance; one of the greatest national championship performances ever. Game highlights.
Texas Tech Red Raiders (1996): Michael Crabtree beats #1 Texas in 2008
If I stuck strictly to basketball, there's no doubt that the day Bob Knight set the NCAA record for wins, after defeating New Mexico in 2007. However, I'm not sure landing a legendary coach for the decline of his career fits, so I chose Michael Crabtree's last second catch to vault the Red Raiders over their in-state rival--who happened to be the top team in the country at the time. The Red Raiders exposed Texas' secondary, derailing Colt McCoy's Heisman hopes in the process. Crabtree went on to be awarded All-American honors before heading west and playing for San Francisco in the NFL. Here's the catch.
Colorado Buffaloes (1947): There has to be a Pac-12 blog out there somewhere, right?
Oklahoma State Cowboys (1925, again in 1958): Barry Sanders and his 1988 season
I generally have a tough time choosing "the best _____ ever" just because of all the variables. It's pretty easy on principle to say Michael Jordan was the best basketball player ever, but even then you can run into Wilt Chamberlain's statistical arguments or Bill Russel's championships. But one superlative I've always felt pretty assured about is Barry Sanders as a running back. In the NFL Sanders never had a season under 1000 yards, he retired in his prime less than 1500 yards from the rushing record. He was later passed by Emmitt Smith, but if you retire Smith after his tenth season, Smith finishes more than 1300 yards short of Sanders. There's more evidence from college. ESPN's Jeff Merron argues that Barry Sanders' 1988 season was the best season in college football history (backed up earlier when ESPN chose the top ten seasons for "The End of the Century"). In 1988 Sanders had 2,628 rushing yards, had 3,249 total yards, and scored 39 touchdowns (all records). He rushed for over 300 yards in four games. That's outrageous, end of story. Highlights.
Oklahoma Sooners (1919): 1948-1957
For a decade the Oklahoma Sooners dominated college football. Not "they were probably the best team" wishy washy stuff. No: they dominated. The Sooners record over that time period was 94-4-2. In ten years, they lost four games. They won fourteen straight conference championships from 1946-1959. They also won three national championships in 1950, 1955, and 1956. They also recorded the longest winning streak in D-1 college football history, winning 47 straight games spanning 1953-1957. Before that, they had a 31 game winning streak. Here's a Sooner breakdown of the 47 game winning streak.
**To make up for my Oklahoma schmoozing, let it also be noted that the Sooners played in another, more recent, classic game. The 2007 Fiesta Bowl between Oklahoma and Boise State was supposed to serve as proof that BCS schools were the end-all-be-all in college football. In the AP Preview, Oklahoma was described as "Bigger, stronger, faster, and in a power conference." ESPN's Accuscore prediction had Oklahoma winning 70% of the time. Vegas had the Bronco's as 7-point underdogs. But they shocked the world. By means of a hook and ladder and statue of liberty, Boise State tricked their way past the Sooners 43-42. It was an unbelievable game that I'll never forget. Highlights.
Kansas State Wildcats (1913): 2010 K-State beats Xavier 2OT to advance to the Elite Eight
We're back to basketball! Kansas State football has a rough history you might say: things aren't going well for a program when Sports Illustrated writes an article called "Futility U" following your second straight winless season... For a time they were the losingest team in the NCAA. Kansas is a basketball state anyways. Yes, Kansas State has been to four Final Fours; they've been to twelve Elite Eights; but I'm not sure any of them were as sweet as last season's run. The Wildcats had been playing second fiddle to their in-state rivals the entire season. They Jayhawks always seemed to get the best of them. But then Northern Iowa came along, demolishing the Jayhawks' high hopes faster than TNT. Suddenly K-State was top dog, advancing to the Sweet 16 to face Xavier. What came to pass is hard to describe. It looked like Kansas State would run away with it in the first half, but Xavier came clawing back. The Wildcats led for most of the second half, but it was anyone's game. With two minutes to go in regulation, the game was tied up at 67. What followed can only be described as heroics from Terrell Holloway and Jordan Crawford in the first overtime (scoring all of Xavier's points). Pullen saved his heroics for when it mattered (as Gus Johnson said, "he's in shape"). Highlights. The full game is also available at http://www.vault.ncaa.com/ (which may be the most awesome site ever, other than Big12Hoops).
Iowa State Cyclones (1908): Ending their fifteen game losing streak against Iowa in 1998
The Cyclones do have a Final Four appearance, but I can confidently tell you their athletic department (and most fans) appreciate the 1998 upset more than the 1947 basketball moment of greatness. The Cyclones were really bad in the late 90's, and this game is seen by many as the one that turned them around. Here's a solid article from the student daily paper about the game.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (1907): There's so much history here...five national championships, some game of the century in 1971, but I think they're in the nouveau Big 12 formerly known as the Big 10.
Missouri Tigers (1907): Winning the Big XII North title over Kansas in 2007
The Border War. It's one of the longest standing (going back to 1891!), bitterest rivalries in college sports (here's a great article from the New York Times detailing the full history. In late November 2007, Missouri and Kansas were ranked 4th and 2nd respectively in the BCS. The team that won had a great chance at playing for the national title. Oh, and the series was basically dead even (54-52-9 Kansas or 53-53-9 depending on who you trust). More couldn't have been on the line. This was also the first time the game was played in Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, right in between the two schools. Needless to say, the atmosphere was electric. Missouri won the game, fighting off a brutal comeback from the Jayhawks in the fourth quarter. With LSU's loss, Missouri's victory gave them not only pride, but also the top spot in the polls. Highlights.
Kansas Jayhawks (1907): 1988 National Championship run
And it all comes back to basketball... Kansas went on a cinderella run for the ages for their second NCAA title. After starting the season 12-8, Larry Brown had to recruit football players to fill out his crippled squad. They were a 6-seed going into the NCAA tournament. First they handled Xavier; next came Murray State; then Vanderbilt fell; and in the Midwestern regional finals they handled Kansas State to move to the Final Four. Most people were surprised to see Kansas make the Final Four that year, but no one held out any hope they could beat Duke, much less Arizona or Oklahoma (the Sooners beat them by 8 both times they met previously). Danny Manning felt otherwise: he led the Jayhawks against Duke, dropping a ludicrous stat line (25 points, 10 rebounds, 6 blocks, and 4 steals) in the process. Junior Milt Newton also added 20 points to ensure Blue Devil defeat. Next came Billy Tubbs' dominant Oklahoma team. Oklahoma averaged 103 points during the season; they ran you out of the building as soon as the game started. No one thought Kansas could hang with Oklahoma (and they didn't really have reason to), but Kansas ran with the wind and went in to the half with the game tied 50 apiece. The second half reflected Kansas' style (including the scoreboard). Danny Manning scored 31 points with 18 rebounds on the way to victory. Oh, and the game was in Kansas City. Talk about the perfect storm for Jayhawks fans. Here's a great article from the SI Vault. And highlights.
As far as the entire conference is concerned, the past couple of weeks have been crucial as well. Avoiding (however temporarily) the conference expansion apocalypse may be the most important moment for the future of the conference since the conference was started early in the 20th Century. Basketball-wise the conference became exponentially stronger overnight, making it a tough--and exciting--league top to bottom.
These are my favorite moments. Vote for yours below. Or comment if I ignored the best moment entirely.
What moment was the greatest in the storied history of the Big XII conference?
Texas A&M winning the 2008 conference title (37 votes)
Baylor's dramatic comeback from the Bliss coverup (4 votes)
Texas' 2006 victory over USC in the Rose Bowl (15 votes)
Texas Tech's Michael Crabtree grabbing victory away from the Longhorns in 2008 (4 votes)
Oklahoma State's Barry Sanders' unfathomable season (2 votes)
Oklahoma's decade of dominance (20 votes)
Kansas State's "instant classic" over Xavier in the Sweet 16 this year (44 votes)
Iowa State's breaking of their slump against Iowa (1 vote)
Missouri winning 2007's Border War (6 votes)
Kansas' dramatic, improbable 1988 national championship run (13 votes)
The Big XII avoiding its destruction, only losing two teams to conference expansion (5 votes)
151 total votes