Was the Big 12 better off when it had a conference title game?
That's a question the conference had to ponder this offseason, and one we'll surely be discussing again if the Big 12 ends up expanding in the future.
And it's a far more pressing question if the conference gets left out of the College Football Playoff again in 2015. The selection committee's preference for a so-called "13th data point" had even Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby second-guessing the league's postseason plan this spring.
After further discussions with presidents, athletic directors and coaches, Bowlby emerged more reassured by the end of May. As he put it: "As you look back through history, nobody's been hurt more by a game after the season than we have."
He's right. Here's a quick rewind on each Big 12 title game, with a simple question in mind: Did the result help or hurt the conference's chances of winning a national title?
1996: Texas 37, No. 3 Nebraska 27
The Huskers were 10-1 and No. 3 in the AP poll and got upset by James Brown and his 7-4 Longhorns. Nebraska looked likely to face Florida State in the Sugar Bowl but got bounced out of the national title picture.
1997: No. 2 Nebraska 54, No. 14 Texas A&M 15
The eventual national champions went in 11-0 and really had no trouble, running out to a 34-point halftime lead.
1998: No. 10 Texas A&M 36, No. 2 Kansas State 33 (2 OT)
Thanks to the great Sirr Parker, A&M stunned arguably Bill Snyder's most talented team yet. A win sends Heisman runner-up Michael Bishop and the Wildcats to the national title game. A lost sent them to the Alamo Bowl.
1999: No. 3 Nebraska 22, No. 12 Texas 6
The Huskers took care of business, but that still wasn't enough to surpass undefeated Virginia Tech for No. 2 in the BCS and a spot in the championship game. So, in essence, this Big 12 title game neither helped nor hurt.
2000: No. 1 Oklahoma 27, No. 8 Kansas State 24
Bob Stoops survived his first Big 12 title game and kept a perfect season intact en route to a BCS title. Maybe a good battle from K-State was proper/needed prep for facing FSU.
2001: No. 9 Colorado 39, No. 3 Texas 37
Well ... how do we look back on this one? A hot, two-loss Colorado team upsetting Texas did accidentally send another Big 12 team to the title game in the Rose Bowl. So is that good? A Texas victory almost certainly means the Horns play Miami for the championship. Maybe that game wouldn't be any closer than the Huskers' 23-point loss. But maybe it would?
2002: No. 8 Oklahoma 29, No. 12 Colorado 7
The Sooners dropped from their No. 3 spot in the BCS with a Bedlam loss to Oklahoma State, so there were really no national title implications this time around.
2003: No. 13 Kansas State 35, No. 1 Oklahoma 7
Remarkably OK, in fact. The consensus No. 1 Sooners got blown out in the conference title game and still retained their chance to play for a national title. Thanks, BCS formulas! Still, we certainly haven't forgotten the heroics of Darren Sproles and Ell Roberson.
2004: No. 2 Oklahoma 42, Colorado 3
The much better team won, remained unbeaten and played for a national championship. Can't complain.
2005: No. 2 Texas 70, Colorado 3
2006: No. 8 Oklahoma 21, No. 19 Nebraska 7
Paul Thompson, Malcolm Kelly and the stout Sooner defense had a terrific night in Kansas City to clinch a Fiesta Bowl trip, but there were no national title implications.
2007: No. 9 Oklahoma 38, No. 1 Missouri 17
The Tigers went down to the Alamodome ranked No. 1 in the BCS. They'd just knocked off No. 2 Kansas. National championship appearance on the line. But Mizzou had to play Oklahoma again. And lost again.
2008: No. 2 Oklahoma 62, No. 20 Missouri 31
The best offense the Big 12's ever seen (until Baylor came along) surpassed 60 for a fifth straight game, even without DeMarco Murray's help, to secure a national championship bid.
2009: No. 3 Texas 13, No. 22 Nebraska 12
This one was more a combination of “almost bad” and “arguably bad.” Texas did escape in the final second to secure its BCS national title bid. But getting wrecked by Ndamukong Suh cost Colt McCoy his chance at the Heisman, and the Horns got exposed a bit in this game. Big picture, though, would Texas have preferred to skip this game and move right on to Alabama? Heck yes.
2010: No. 9 Oklahoma 23, No. 13 Nebraska 20
The Big 12's final championship game was a somewhat forgettable one. The two-loss Sooners rallied from down 17, sending the Huskers off to the Big Ten with one more title game failure. Oklahoma went to the Fiesta Bowl for an even more forgettable win over UConn.
So here's the final scoreboard: Five good, five OK, five bad.
The Big 12 title game featured a team with a shot at playing for the national title 11 times. Those teams went 6-5.
Just as important, let's look at rematches. Every future Big 12 championship game would feature one, assuming the league sticks to its no-division, round-robin scheduling format. We saw rematches in six of 15 title games. Four times, the eventual Big 12 champion did beat a division champion twice. And two times -- in 1999 and 2001 -- we've seen the loser win on their second chance.
Ending up with rematches 40 percent of the time in a 15-year sample is not that bad. Hosting rematches every single year is problematic.
What history reminds us is you can't predict the random. You can't predict the division runner-up playing for a national title in 2001. You can't predict the three-way tie in 2008, or that Oklahoma could lose its conference title game in 2003 and still play for a national title.
But based on these results, we do know a Big 12 championship game can hurt the conference almost as often as it helps.