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Bowl season was a missed opportunity for the Big 12

A national champion has yet to be decided and the debate over the best conferences in college football rages on.

Big 12 teams starved for respect during the regular season gave the conference the chance to claim a spot among the nation’s best during bowl season.

Instead, the Big 12 struggled.

With the help of ESPN Stats & Information, we’ll take a closer look at how the Big 12 fared during bowl season compared to the other Power 5 conferences, with a goal of seeing which narratives have some numbers to back them up and which statements fell apart once conference play concluded. Here’s a look at the Power 5 conference rankings in five key categories -- scoring margin, points per drive, yards per play, points allowed per drive, yards allowed per play -- and a quick thought on what it means for the Big 12.

Record, scoring margin

1. SEC: 8-2, 16.7

2. Pac 12: 6-4, 6.5

3. Big Ten: 5-5, minus-4.9

4. ACC: 4-5, minus-4.2

5. Big 12: 3-4, minus-11.6

Quick thought: SEC haters might want to look away. Not only is the SEC winning games, it is winning comfortably. Meanwhile, the Big 12 was on the road to disaster before TCU and West Virginia added to its win total on the final day of the bowl season. Not only did the Big 12 finish below .500 for the third time in four seasons, but Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and Texas Tech got run off the field.

Points per drive

1. SEC: 2.71

2. Pac 12: 2.57

3. Big 12: 2.35

4. ACC: 2.14

5. Big Ten: 1.92

Quick thought: Yet again the SEC tops the list. The Big 12 is known for its high-scoring offenses -- the conference featured four of the top 10 FBS scoring offenses -- yet the conference is looking up at the SEC and Pac 12 after bowl season. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, in particular, were less explosive than normal in venturing outside of the conference. These numbers don’t help the case of those who insist Big 12 offenses are unstoppable. If it wasn’t for Baylor (4.08) and West Virginia (2.53), things would really be ugly.

Opponent points per drive

1. SEC: 1.5

2. Big Ten: 2.1

3. Pac 12: 2.2

4. ACC: 2.6

5. Big 12: 3.1

Quick thought: Yikes. Next time someone tells you there’s no defense in the Big 12, just change the subject. Might I suggest bringing up "Making a Murderer"?

Yards per play

1. SEC: 6.6

2. ACC: 6.4

3. Pac 12: 6.3

4. Big 12: 6.0

5. Big Ten: 5.4

Quick thought: Things don’t get any better for the Big 12 as we look at yards per play. It wasn't as though Big 12 offenses were moving the ball up and down the field but just couldn’t capitalize with touchdowns (outside of West Virginia). Only Big Ten had fewer yards per play than the vaunted Big 12 offenses. The Mountaineers were the best in the Big 12 at 8.05 yards per play in their Motel 6 Cactus Bowl victory over Arizona State.

Yards per play allowed

1. SEC: 5.04

2. Pac 12: 5.73

3. Big Ten: 5.75

4. ACC: 6.07

5. Big 12: 7

Quick thought: Another blow to Big 12 defenses and the defensive reputation of the conference overall. Oklahoma, the Big 12’s top defense, allowed 5.89 yards per play to Clemson during its blowout loss. TCU led the way, allowing 5.05 yards per play to Oregon during its Valero Alamo Bowl comeback.

Summary: Not only did the Big 12 not fare well record-wise, the conference’s supposed strength (explosive offense) didn't show up, either. That wouldn’t have mattered too much if the Big 12 had finished with a winning record -- but it did not, and the conference’s opportunity to change its national reputation fell by the wayside. Frankly, if the Big 12 wants respect -- for its offenses, defenses or overall -- it needs to excel during bowl season. These numbers will make playing the "no respect" card much tougher when the College Football Playoff debate heats up again in late 2016.