Oklahoma and Texas who? How the new-look Big 12 is ready to thrive

On July 14, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby concluded his remarks at the league's preseason media days with a line about conference realignment.

"It doesn't appear to me that the motivation is there at this point in time," Bowlsby said at AT&T Stadium near Dallas. "Not to say it couldn't happen, but it's not one of the things that keeps me up at night."

A week later, news broke that Oklahoma and Texas, the Big 12's most historic powers and biggest brands, were set to leave for the SEC. The impending departures left anger and bitterness throughout the Big 12, as well as valid questions about the league's viability without the Sooners and Longhorns.

On Dec. 4, the Big 12 returned to AT&T Stadium for its championship game. The epic contest went down to the final play, as Baylor kept Oklahoma State's Dezmon Jackson out of the end zone to win 21-16. The game recorded the third-highest television rating (4.83) among the Power 5 title games -- well ahead of the Pac-12 (2.46) and ACC (2.04) -- and drew 65,771 fans, the second-largest crowd since the event returned in 2017 after a seven-year hiatus.

"You look back to the summer, and it almost felt like, 'Well, if Oklahoma or Texas aren't playing in the championship game, then nobody's going to be there and nobody's going to watch,'" Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades told ESPN. "That was kind of the conversation and maybe the interpretation of the future of the league. That obviously isn't the case. People are fired up about Oklahoma State football and fired up about Baylor football, and certainly the rest of the league as well.

"That is a glimpse of what the Big 12 can be."