Nonconference? Big 12 can prove nothing

Five Big 12 teams open their seasons against teams from college football's minor leagues.

One team in the Big 12, Iowa State, opens its season as an underdog. Get a long look at the Cyclones when they open their 2012 season on Saturday with a must-win game against Tulsa. A Big 12 team playing as an underdog in nonconference play will be a rarity.

A small part of that is a testament to the Big 12's strength, but more, it's a testament to the Big 12's nonconference schedule, which is only slightly more exciting than watching artificial turf grow.

When it's all done, expect the Big 12 to puff out its chest and trumpet a pretty 29-1, 28-2 or 27-3 record in nonconference play, while conveniently overlooking that just one of those victories came against a preseason top-25 team.

That game, it so happens, won't even be played until late October, when Notre Dame comes to Owen Field to face Oklahoma, where the Sooners are 77-3 under Bob Stoops.

The other ugly side of scheduling as soft as the coonskin cap atop the West Virginia mascot's head?

The Big 12 has nothing to gain and everything to lose every time it takes the field in September.

Whoa, the Big 12 has road wins over UTEP and Arizona? Knocked off a rebuilding Miami squad? Why even play the games? Hand the Big 12 the national title right now.

It doesn't matter what the Big 12 does over the next month: It's not making up an inch of ground in proving it's a superior conference to the SEC.

The only game of the entire month that might turn heads would be Iowa State finding a way to knock off Iowa in Iowa City.

But lose a game? Uh-oh.

TCU lost to SMU again? West Virginia dropped a game to Maryland? Great pickups, Big 12.

"Rising" Texas somehow lost to Ole Miss, the worst team in the SEC? The Longhorns are back!

Embarrassment all over the place.

Texas is the only team in the Big 12 that didn't sign up to play an FCS opponent this fall.

Most of the league's top contenders should coast through nonconference play at 3-0. Adding a ninth conference game in 2011 to make round-robin play a reality meant the Big 12's teams would be cautious about playing tough competition out of conference.

But already to this level?

Upon entrance into the Big 12, West Virginia paid $500,000 to get out of a previously scheduled top-10 showdown with Florida State and make room for a nine-game Big 12 schedule versus a seven-game slate in the Big East.

That sound you heard? The last breath, the last gasp of intrigue in the Big 12's nonconference schedule has officially been squeezed out.

Until it's time to suit up for bowl games, the Big 12 won't be able to state any real case for its league strength, and it'll be especially hard if no Big 12 team is in the national title race.

The Big 12 will dominate its opposition in September.

The weakness of that opposition means those wins won't mean much when it comes to measuring conference strength.