TCU, West Virginia benefit Big 12’s image with growing programs

Some were fitting the Big 12 for toe tags only six years ago as the conference appeared to be imploding from within.

The departure of Nebraska to the Big Ten and Colorado to the Pac-12 in 2010 prompted many to question its future. And when Missouri and Texas A&M left for the Southeastern Conference the following season, the Big 12’s survival prospects looked bleak.

Something needed to be done – and quickly.

That’s when the conference reached out to TCU and West Virginia as its newest members.

And at least for this weekend, the sagacity of that decision has never been more apparent. It’s time for the Big 12 to celebrate a decision it got right.

The conference’s future remains a little murky. But the newest kids on the block provide two programs that have raised the conference’s national profile.

Adding West Virginia and TCU wasn’t necessarily the most popular matter of course at the time. Many wondered if schools like Louisville or BYU might have brought more national cache.

But at least on Saturday – as Game Day visits Fort Worth and an early share of first place is up for grabs – the value of the Big 12’s two newest members remains clear.

With TCU at No. 9 nationally and West Virginia at No. 23, it makes sense for ESPN to be at  the Big 12’s top game this week.

It wasn’t the case two weeks ago when Game Day bizarrely was in Times Square in New York the same week as TCU traveled to Oklahoma State.

This week’s Big 12 featured game is the best in the country again. More importantly, ESPN realizes it.

Dissimilar styles make for a good rivalry

West Virginia and TCU’s styles of play have always provided an interesting contrast that has made for some intriguing games.

In Gary Patterson and Dana Holgorsen, the two programs feature two of the most colorful and best coaches in the nation. Holgorsen is known for his offenses. Patterson might be college football’s top defensive tactician.

The Big 12 was badly needing an infusion of excitement. The unlikely grouping of the Horned Frogs and Mountaineers has brought that home.

West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen angrily reacts to an officials’ call during the Mountaineers’ 39-38 double-overtime loss to TCU in their 2012 game in Morgantown, W. Va. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

TCU was a no-brainer because of the school’s location in the heart of the conference and traditional rivalries with several of the schools in place.

“From a rivalry standpoint, the reality is that are geographic rivals work the best for a long-standing situation,” TCU athletic director Chris Del Conte said. “Now that we’ve joined, we’ve rekindled those memories.”

West Virginia was a more unconventional choice, but one that provided immediate advantages. The Mountaineers had notched a convincing 70-33 victory in the Orange Bowl over Clemson the season before their Big 12 arrival. Still, some were curious how their style of play would translate into their new conference.

But Holgorsen’s Big 12 roots – he formerly was an assistant at Texas Tech and Oklahoma State – made the transition smoother.

And the transformation has clearly helped West Virginia’s national profile, even if the school remains far-flung compared to the rest of the conference.

“Football is good in the Big 12,” West Virginia athletic director Shane Lyons proclaimed earlier in the summer at his annual state-of-the-program press conference.

Tight games mark TCU-West Virginia rivalry

And it’s been similarly strong because of the previous games between the two schools. The first three games between them since they joined the conference all were settled on the final play. Their combined margin was six points, including a double-overtime game, an overtime and another one settled by a kick at the gun. The two recent games haven’t been as close, but Saturday’s contest promises to be more like the early ones.

“Our coaching staff and everybody around here knows that our games with West Virginia have been absolute dogfights,” Del Conte said. “They’ve been settled after big comebacks, blocked extra points, games at the gun. Every game has been a great story and we’re aware around here of how tough those games have been and what a great rivalry we are developing.”

TCU kicker Jaden Oberkrom delivers his game-winning 37-yard-field goal on the final play of the Horned Frogs’ 31-30 2014 victory at West Virginia. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

The rivalry almost started in the Big East. West Virginia was a member from 1991-2011. TCU was briefly of a member, but never played a game before moving to the Big 12.

“I think we were in it for about two months,” Del Conte said. “We were in it long enough that I attended three meetings.”

Big 12 admission boosts recruiting at both schools

Recruiting has picked up for both schools, raising the profile of both schools nationally after their new conference affiliation. That growth promises more games like Saturday’s in the future.

“I can tell you we get more looks from the people we want than we did years ago,” Holgorsen said. “Kids in our recruiting grounds are familiar with the Big 12 and the exciting style we play.”

Patterson agrees.

“We’ve had some very good players over the years,” Patterson said. “The key has always been the guy that took their place. We’ve always had good one’s. Now our two’s and three’s are better.

“The doors have opened, the opportunity we have to talk to more good players has increased. We’ve got to continue to market our brand and grow.”

TCU athletic Chris Del Conte explains the benefits of joining the Big East during a 2010 press conference after the Horned Frogs briefly joined the conference “for about two months,” Del Conte jokes. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Rivalry germinated after Big 12 arrival for both schools

West Virginia and TCU are unlikely rivals considering the distance between them and the lack of a historical connection between them other than meeting in the 1984 Bluebonnet Bowl.

But being thrown into the Big 12 has been the best thing for both programs, an entry into the Power 5 that has increased  commitment to athletics and upgrades to their facilities.

“Not just in athletics, but in academics and all the rest of it — how much the visibility of our university and the things that are happening,” Patterson said.

“As a university and as a city, coming into the Big 12 totally changed the whole outlook of everything that’s happened here in Fort Worth and TCU.”

Both teams needed the Big 12 to make their jump into the upper echelons of the sport.

In turn, the Big 12 needed West Virginia and TCU to remain relevant in college football.

The result has been a marriage that has benefited them all.

The post TCU, West Virginia benefit Big 12’s image with growing programs appeared first on Diehards.

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