The Big 12 South's flagship programs

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

As Oklahoma prepares for its Sweet 16 matchup tonight, I thought it would be a good time to consider the flagship sport of each Big 12 South Division school.

Last week, we looked at the North Division programs.

Unlike the North, football appears to be more predominant at more places in the South.

I'll also consider what football will have to do -- both in the immediate and in the long-term future -- to reclaim or maintain that position.

Here's a look at the South Division:


Flagship program: Women's basketball

Why: Kim Mulkey has carved out the school's most consistent recent national program, claiming the 2005 national championship and making six straight trips to the NCAA women's tournament. It could also be argued that Clyde Hart's track program be considered as its equal after earning the nickname "Quarter Miler U" and producing Olympic gold medalists like Michael Johnson, Darold Williamson and Jeremy Wariner. But Mulkey's team has been a consistent player nationally in a sport with a wider mainstream reach.

Football's future: It's bright with Art Briles and Robert Griffin around for a few more years. A gleaming new football facility puts the Bears on an equal plane with any other Big 12 South team. But the first step will be making a bowl trip, which would snap a 14-season drought that is the Big 12's longest. It will be hard to make inroads in the Big 12 South, but Briles and Griffin give the Bears hope.


Flagship program: Football

Why: Bob Stoops has been the most consistent winner in Big 12 history, claiming six Big 12 titles and an unprecedented three-peat of consecutive conference titles heading into the upcoming season. That success, along with his national championship in 2000, has carried the Sooners' tradition of success, which includes six other national championships with Bud Wilkinson and Barry Switzer, and maybe even built upon it.

Football's future: In a word, glistening. The Sooners have nationally competitive men's and women's basketball programs. And Stoops has had that pesky problem in BCS bowl games recently. But it still hasn't diminished the Sooners' booming football support.


Flagship program: Football

Why: The program of Henry Iba and Eddie Sutton made six Final Four appearances and claimed national basketball championships in 1945 and 1946. But football has jumped past basketball in recent years with six bowl appearances in seven seasons. The program has been marked by the success of Mike Gundy, explosive offenses and the megabuck contributions of T. Boone Pickens.

Football's future: The Cowboys have football on an uptick and will enter the 2009 season with more excitement than any other time in recent memory. If the OSU defense can develop, the Cowboys could challenge for the first Big 12 South championship in history and their first undisputed conference football championship since 1948. But that's a big, big if -- considering the explosive offenses in the Big 12.


Flagship program: Football

Why: The program that Darrell Royal pushed into national prominence has gotten even bigger in the new millennium under Mack Brown. The Longhorns have perhaps the nation's strongest overall athletic program considering all of men's and women's athletics. But football shines above them all as a money-making machine that has helped fuel the school's recent renaissance.

Football's future: It looks good for the Longhorns both in the next several years and further down the road. Brown appears to be ready for a run at one more national championship. He could have that chance this season. And designated successor Will Muschamp will be given the keys to one of college football's ultimate Ferraris when he takes over. It was a smart decision to hire Muschamp in that role and keeps the Longhorns' football program continuity intact. Now, it will be determined if Muschamp can coach an entire football team instead of merely a defense.


Flagship program: Football

Why: Tradition reigns supreme in Aggieland, and even the recent men's basketball success developed by Billy Gillispie and Mark Turgeon and the women's success by Gary Blair can't really eat into that. Football is the top dog here and likely always will be.

Football's future: Coach Mike Sherman is facing a huge challenge with established mega-programs at Oklahoma, Texas, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech at arguably their highest football levels ever. And Baylor is making some big jumps as well. The Aggies will be challenged to keep up with all of their South Division rivals. And an extended slippage could prove devastating for the program.


Flagship program: Football.

Why: Mike Leach has boosted excitement in the Red Raiders to the highest levels in school history. He still hasn't gotten his team to a BCS bowl game yet, but he's developed and nurtured the program with an entertaining philosophy that captured the attention of the nation. It says something when Leach's program can be featured on "60 Minutes" and becomes the favorite of Donald Trump.

Football's future: Leach has the program pointed in the right direction and is getting better recruits than he's ever attracted. And his new five-year contract should be tangible proof to future recruits that he'll be here for a few more years. It should keep Tech football moving forward -- even in the uber-competitive Big 12 South.