Will Johnny Football Kill the Big 12?
By Jacob Shoor
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Johnny Manziel could prove to be the driving force for the end of the Big 12 as we currently know it.
Johnny Manziel is the biggest thing to hit college football since Tim Tebow. And that is the reason I find it symbolically significant that Darrell K. Royal, the man who made Texas the behemoth it is, passed away just three days before "Johnny Football" led the Aggies to what may prove to be their biggest win in history: upsetting #1, and seemingly invincible, Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Seemingly no one - perhaps even in the heart of Aggieland - felt that A&M could compete right away. I was among the few who felt confident that the move away from the University of Texas and the second conference it controlled almost 100% would benefit A&M greatly long term, but even I said that the Aggies would require a couple of years to secure their footing in the SEC and begin to use SEC membership to recruit Texas talent equally with UT and OU.
What I did not know was that Mike Sherman had signed Johnny Manziel, who had spent his redshirt season soaking up all that Sherman had to teach about Brett Favre and all that was known by Ryan Tannehill, until Johnny Football became the best QB in Aggie history.
What Royal accomplished in Austin was to make the Longhorns the default team for the Lone Star State, the team the media, casual sports fans, and kids playing high school football would think of first and foremost as representing the state. Unless something happens to derail his career so that his apex has been reached, Johnny Manziel will undo what Royal did. Even if he wins a Heisman and leads the Aggies to a National Championship, Manziel will not demote the Longhorns fully. But what he can achieve is to make the SEC the king of the Lone Star State.
Longhorn fans have not faced that possibility because seemingly none of them have ever considered it remotely possible. They feel impregnable. When Texas tried to push A&M into the Pac-10 the first time, I said that A&M would never head to the Left Coast, and if A&M were to join the SEC without Texas, that Texas would suffer some loss of status relative to A&M long term, and that eventually the state would become an SEC state, in the sense that the SEC, not whatever conference UT might claim, would dominate the state's interest.
Johnny Football may bring my prediction to fruition far faster than I ever dreamed.
For me, the most interesting aspect of that will be to see whether the Big 12, which is little more than a Longhorn personal fiefdom, can survive. It exists now only because Texas wants it to exist, and perhaps only to try to make the Longhorn Network its never-aging cash cow that no other athletics department can match. But the simple fact is that just as SEC football exudes a contagious fascination that no other conference can come close to matching, the Big 12 is a dud located out on the Great Plains.
I do not mean that no Big 12 programs can field great teams. I mean that other than the state of Texas and the Red River Shootout, the Big 12 is easily forgotten. OK, KS, IA, and WV as states simply do not matter, and, save for Kansas basketball, neither does any sport of any Big 12 member outside the UT-OU rivalry. The value of each other member is no more than its ties to OU and especially UT.
The more that Texas becomes an SEC state, the more that will be made painfully obvious. The reason is that the more Texas becomes an SEC state, SEC schools will sign more Texas talent and Texas residents lacking UT ties will watch SEC games rather than Big 12 games.
If Texas talent begins to look to the SEC, first the rest of the Big 12 will suffer talent depletion and then eventually even UT and OU will feel the pinch. To avoid feeling the pinch, Texas and Oklahoma would need to be in a conference that is more interesting than the Big 12, that has states with large media markets other than in Texas, that have some kind of wow factor.
And that means that Larry Scott now knows for certain that his dream of a Pac-16 with the Red River Shootout anchoring its Inland Division is back on the table.
The Pac-12 may be the Left Coast, which oozes limp wrists when compared to the SEC, but it is much more interesting nationally than the non-Texas states in the Big 12.