When Big 12 Media Days wrapped up, the conference made clear what most people had already been thinking: There is no clear-cut leader to win the league.
The media had voted Oklahoma State first, but with so little confidence that it was merely 28 points away from the fourth-place team. In fact, the Pokes, with 15 first-place votes, did not even double the second-, third- or fourth-place candidates.
Basically, what the Big 12 has is an absolute crapshoot as to who will represent them in the final round of the BCS cycle. The numbers are just representations of the flaws that each team possesses.
The Cowboys are looking for a run game and have plenty to fix on defense. Oklahoma, the second-place team, is trying to fix a defense that got blown apart a year ago and answer its quarterback question. TCU, who rang in at third, is looking for week-to-week consistency in its second season in the Big 12. Lastly, the Texas Longhorns' offense and defense are a work in progress, but the potential is there.
All are teams with the potential to win the conference. All of them have the vulnerability to implode in big spots and fall short of that same goal.
The Big 12 is, as we have seen out of the Big Ten and ACC recently, a conference without a team expected to compete for the BCS Championship. For the Big Ten, Ohio State has stepped up into the spotlight. Although Oklahoma State was close in 2011, the Big 12 really needs its power players to step up to the plate.
That means you, Oklahoma and Texas.
Voted to finish second and fourth respectively, the conference certainly needs the Sooners and the Longhorns back at the top of the sport as football moves into a new era of playoffs in 2014.
The 2008 and 2009 seasons were solid times for the Big 12, featuring back-to-back appearances in the BCS Championship Game and only overshadowed by the SEC's participant winning both games. The league also finished the regular season ranked No. 2 and No. 3 in 2008, in what would be the last time it sent two teams to BCS Bowls.
Oklahoma State in 2011 and Kansas State in 2012 were phenomenal stories, teams that pushed the envelope and got close to the mountaintop. However, for the continued success of the league, Texas and Oklahoma have to get back to the 2009 and 2008 editions.
That means not just winning the Big 12 outright, as both have a shot to do that this year, but more importantly competing for a national title shot. Or in the context of the very near future, competing for playoff spots.
Texas and Oklahoma are the two teams with the means to be perennial contenders in the playoffs, the two teams that can recruit at a level capable of building the depth and the quality of talent to field both elite offensive and defensive units.
That starts with this season: Oklahoma fixing their defense that has been progressively worse since the 2009 unit, and Texas finding an identity on offense and then sticking with that identity as the season goes. Oklahoma has to commit to running the ball between the tackles, with purpose. Texas has to get consistent play out of the defense and not hemorrhage yards and points in big games.
Oklahoma State may well win the Big 12 this year, but what really matters is that the Big 12's power brokers use 2013 to get on the right track.