Crossroads: Responsibility falls on Tech, Tigers, Aggies

A year from now, there almost certainly won't be a Big 12 North and South.

Welcome to our world, says Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and Texas A&M fans used to seeing both the Sooners and Longhorns annually. Uh-oh, responds the North. Namely Kansas State's Bill Snyder, who received some light ribbing at Big 12 media days for his desire to keep two five-team divisions and a championship game.

A look down the past six years' Big 12 champion reveals what everyone already knows: Texas and Oklahoma rule the Big 12.

But with the departure of the other most historically successful program, Nebraska, the Big 12 will battle the perception that it's a weakened league. And in the immediate future, it will be. This year's preseason coaches' poll tells us at least that, with three teams in the top 10 -- including the Huskers -- and no other Big 12 teams in the remainder of the poll.

To keep the league from becoming top-heavy over the next decade -- a Big 2 and Little 8 -- another program or two must become a mainstay in recruiting rankings and weekly polls.

The most likely candidates are the same ones who received votes in this year's preseason poll: Texas Tech, Missouri and Texas A&M.

Texas Tech has the coach to do it in Tommy Tuberville, who'll bring his sense for brick wall SEC defense and years of success to Lubbock. Missouri has a five-year bowl streak and 30 wins the past three seasons on its side, and both schools made late-season visits to the BCS rankings' top 2 in 2007 and 2008.

The big difference between the two is their success against the powers. Texas Tech has beaten Oklahoma and Texas in successive seasons. Missouri's Gary Pinkel has never beaten either. That will have to change for the Tigers to climb the Big 12 ladder.

Texas A&M has the fan base and resources, and according to coach Mike Sherman, the goal of becoming the Big 12's third premiere team, despite lacking a season with more than seven wins since 2006.

"Certainly in our fan base, our former students dream of the days of the mid-'80s and '90s where we were that marquee type of team. And when I took the job, I really felt that we had enough of a recruiting base in the state of Texas and that we had enough to sell, that we would be able to recruit players to come to make Texas A&M that type of team," Sherman said. "I think the Big 12 needs A&M to step up to the plate, to answer your question, and be that type of team. We're ready to accept that challenge."

There's a wide gap between accepting and completing. It's not easy to navigate. But for the Big 12's sake, Texas Tech, Missouri and Texas A&M need to do it.