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Top 10 Best Big 12 Teams of the Past 20 Years

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© Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman/USA TODAY SPORTS

The 2024 college football season will be here sooner than you think, and with the Big 12 Conference being as wide open as it has really ever been with new members and ever-growing arsenals, there are lots of questions as to who will stick their heads out above the rest and have a historic season. Let's have a look at some of the best seasons Big 12 teams have ever had, ranking them 10 to 1 in a list that will surely not cause any controversy whatsoever.

Basis of Rankings

Teams will be ranked on their performances that season, the talent they had on their rosters, the strength of schedule, the reputation they had both with their program and with college football as a whole, and how they fared in the postseason. This list will include past Big 12 members such as Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, and others.

To preserve parity as well, we will only include one entry per program on this list. Apologies to Texas and Oklahoma. Unfortunately, the newest members (BYU, UCF, Cincinnati, Houston, Arizona, Arizona State, Colorado and Utah) will not be included. Maybe one day they will find themselves on this list though. Let's get started.

Best Big 12 Honorable Mentions

Let's first give a shoutout to the honorable mentions. Teams that didn't make the list, but would have if they didn't have a stronger team from another year or had been just a bit more successful.

  • 2008 Oklahoma Sooners: A record-breaking (at least for the time) offense that made the National Championship game, but there's one better Oklahoma team that makes this list. Hint: It's not the 2007 squad.

  • 2022 Kansas State Wildcats: Will Howard and company lit it up and shocked TCU in the title game, but got demolished in the Sugar Bowl by Alabama. Also, one other Kansas State team is better than this one, played in a more competitive Big 12 and kept their bowl game a little tighter.

  • 2021 Baylor Bears: Dave Aranda's squad was a fun, pleasant surprise for the Baylor faithful, but was a flash in the pan. Another conference championship team for the Bears, the 2014 squad, also doesn't make this list, which really only leaves one other Baylor team to win a conference title over the last 20 years.

  • 2016 West Virginia Mountaineers: The only appearance in this article for the Mountaineers, this team certainly made noise going 10-3 and posting West Virginia's best season in the conference to date, but was pretty forgettable when not all that long ago Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey ran their three-ring offensive spectacle in the Big East Conference.

  • 2023 Texas Longhorns: This one was a tough one to leave off the list, as the firepower that Texas had last year was borderline unmatched. One team from Texas's storied history though finished the job by winning a National Championship.

  • 2009 Nebraska Cornhuskers: The stellar defense led by Ndamukong Suh and Prince Amakamura couldn't do enough to get the Huskers on this list, though their performance in Bo Pelini's sophomore campaign was noteworthy.

There's plenty more, but these were the ones of note. Let's get started on the list.

No. 10: 2020 Iowa State Cyclones

Matt Campbell's best squad to date just barely makes this list over the 2009 Huskers and 2016 Mountaineers. The Cyclones would make a surprise Big 12 title debut as well as appear in their first New Year's Six Bowl game in program history this year, going 9-3 overall and 8-1 in the conference.

Brock Purdy and Breece Hall

Led by 2022 "Mr. Irrelevant" himself, Brock Purdy and Iowa State's first-ever unanimous First-Team All-American Breece Hall, the Cyclones would start out slow, dropping their first game to the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns 14-31. Then, the Cyclones would win three in a row off the backs of three straight 30-point performances. The Cyclones would drop a close one at Oklahoma State, but would go on to close out the regular season in commanding fashion, going undefeated for the remainder of it and forcing their way into the conference title game.

While the Cyclones would lose the contest 21-27 against Oklahoma, they kept it close against the conference stalwart Sooners, who just barely eked out victory after letting the Cyclones back into the game in the second half being outscored 14-3. Iowa State would go on to also get their first-ever New Year's Six Bowl victory, handling the Oregon Ducks 34-17 after a huge second quarter.

Purdy and Hall were the stars of the show for this squad. Both have gone on to have successful NFL careers to this point and have bright futures ahead for them in the pros. While it was a COVID year and they did suffer 3 losses, this Cyclones team is arguably the best Iowa State team in program history, which is why they deserve a spot on this list.

No. 9: 2014 TCU Horned Frogs

Coach Gary Patterson's 2014 squad is his best ever. The Horned Frogs finished 12-1 overall with an 8-1 conference record, losing only to eventual conference co-champion Baylor in Week 5. This team was highlighted by their stellar dual-threat quarterback Trevone Boykin, who had a supporting cast of running backs Aaron Green and BJ Catalon and 1,000-yard receiver Josh Doctson.

Trevone Boykin

Boykin was a star for this team. He was explosive both with his arm and with his legs, being a human highlight reel that was borderline impossible to stop. Boykin would finish fourth in Heisman Trophy voting, receiving seven first-place votes.

The Frogs would finish third in the final AP poll and as co-champions with the aforementioned Bears. They would go into the Peach Bowl and utterly dismantle the Bo Wallace-led Ole Miss Rebels 42-3. Boykin, Green, Doctson and others on this roster would all go on to be drafted in the 2015 NFL Draft, but nobody on this Frogs roster would go on to have any NFL career of note. The careers of essentially everyone on this roster aside from Boykin have also been largely forgotten to time outside of TCU circles.

No. 8: 2013 Baylor Bears

The 2013 season was arguably the best football season in Baylor Bear history. They made their first BCS bowl game, went 11-2 overall and 8-1 in the conference and had one of their best rosters ever in terms of talent.

Bryce Petty

On offense, Bryce Petty threw for 4,200 yards and 32 touchdowns on his way to being crowned Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year. He would be assisted by the receiving talents of Corey Coleman and Antwan Goodley, along with the versatile Levi Norwood in the slot. Lache Seastrunk led the ground attack with 1,177 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. Seastrunk also averaged 7.4 yards a carry, which made him one of the best backs in the nation and First-Team All-Big 12. He wasn't the only force in the backfield though, as the Baylor rushing attack was a three, almost four-headed beast with Shock Linwood, Glasco Martin and even the scrambling talents of Bryce Petty combining for 1,599 yards and 29 touchdowns. The Baylor offense scored more than 60 points each of their first four games, scoring 60-plus a whopping seven times throughout the season.

The defense had no shortage of talent either. A young Shawn Oakman wasn't even the highlight of this unit, as you had Eddie Lackey being one of the most balanced linebackers in the country, stopping the run, making 4.5 sacks and nabbing 3 interceptions. His coverage skills and defensive vision made him one of the most underrated linebackers in the history of the Big 12. Safety Ahmad Dixon patrolled the skies with fellow defensive backs KJ Morton and Demetri Goodson, with assistance from a young Xavien Howard as well. In total, the Baylor secondary accumulated 19 interceptions and allowed just 214.9 yards passing per game.

If it weren't for the loss to up-and-coming program UCF in the Fiesta Bowl, the Bears would have ranked higher on this list. They would finish No. 13 in the final AP Poll and the very next year, find themselves at the top of the conference again sharing with TCU. However, the Bears would lose once again in a New Year's Six Bowl game to Michigan State.

No. 7: 2012 Kansas State Wildcats

Coach Bill Snyder's second tenure was a much-needed injection of life into this Kansas State Wildcat program. The 2012 season was Snyder's magnum opus of his second act. Starting the season 10-0 and reaching No. 2 in the AP Poll for the third time in school history, the Wildcats were the talk of the town in the Big 12. With just one loss in the regular season, this team is widely regarded as one of the best, if not the best, Wildcat teams in program history.

Heisman Trophy 2012

Led by quarterback Colin Klein, who would finish third in Heisman voting, coming the closest to the award for a Wildcat since Michael Bishop in 1998. The Wildcats would feature one of the most explosive offenses in college football for the 2012 season. Running back/utility man John Hubert was one of the most versatile and underrated players in the nation, scoring 16 touchdowns off of 1,045 yards from scrimmage. Receiver duo Tramaine Thompson and Chris Harper also supported Klein, going for 526 and 850 yards, respectively. Aside from Klein though, the biggest story on this offense was receiver Tyler Lockett's coming out party, making himself known as Kansas State's No. 1 receiver for the next two years, going for 4 touchdowns off 742 total yards from scrimmage.

Kansas State's defense this year was also not to be trifled with though, as linebacker Arthur Brown was a big hitter who roamed the second-level as a constant impending threat to opposing offenses. Allen Chapman, Nigel Malone and Ty Zimmerman would each come up with 5 interceptions, making the secondary dangerous as well. Finally, there was sack machine Meshak Williams, who recorded a Big 12 second-best 10.5 sacks and forced 3 fumbles. A balanced defense that had stalwarts at every level, they made the Wildcat offense's job much easier.

In terms of postseason success and player stardom, this team certainly had their ups and downs. They won a share of the Big 12 title this year, Klein finished third in Heisman voting as mentioned before, Lockett was beginning to bud into the eventual NFL star he would become, but the Wildcats petered out late in the season. They would have to share the Big 12 title with Oklahoma after losing to Baylor in Week 11, and although they finished out the regular season on a high note, their weaknesses in team speed and special teams were exposed after being introduced to De'Anthony Thomas and the Oregon Ducks squad, losing in the Fiesta Bowl 17-35. Overall, Kansas State had a great year this year, Snyder's best of his second tenure, however, it was a story of what could have been if just one or two more things went right. This season would be the year they would win the Big 12 title outright in a barnburner against TCU, but it's hotly debated which team was better.

No. 6: 2007 Kansas Jayhawks

This team was perhaps one of the most bizarre, yet fun squads over the past 20 years of college football. In general 2007 was a strange year for college football (more on that later) but no team was stranger than the 2007 Jayhawks. Kansas had a fairly run-of-the-mill football program to this point. Some good years, some average years and some bad years, but nothing super noteworthy since the 1960s.

That was until the 2007 season. Kansas had their best year as a program ever under coach Mark Mangino. The Jayhawks went 12-1 overall and 7-1 in the conference, sharing the Big 12 North Division championship with the Missouri Tigers after succumbing to them at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo., in their only loss this season. The team climbed as high as No. 2 in the AP Poll, their highest ranking ever. If they had beaten the Tigers, then the Jayhawks would have played in their first-ever Big 12 title game and potentially, could have played in the national title game as well.

Justin Thornton

Led by small but mighty Texas-born gunslinger Todd Reesing, the Jayhawks offense was one of the best in the nation, regularly putting up 30-plus points a game. In one contest against Nebraska, the Jayhawks put up a whopping 76 points. For reference, there were seven decades where Kansas didn't score 76 points combined against Nebraska, making this arguably the greatest regular season performance from Kansas football.

The offense was not the only thing making noise with this team though. Kansas's defense was also a force to be reckoned with, mainly their secondary led by corner Aqib Talib, safety Darryl Stuckey, corner Justin Thornton and young but up-and-coming corner by the name of Chris Harris Jr. The Kansas secondary snagged 22 interceptions throughout the season and was a huge reason Kansas would win their first New Year's Six Bowl appearance since 1968, shutting down Atlantic Coast Conference champion Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl 24-21.

A surprising and fun team to watch, the 2007 Jayhawks were a huge part of the way that season was so weird, wacky and entertaining. Talib, Harris and Stuckey all went on to carve out solid NFL careers, with Talib and Harris making multiple Pro Bowls as well as being Super Bowl winners, leading the "No-Fly Zone" 2015-2016 Denver Broncos defense. However, Mangino's legacy would be tarnished after a disappointing follow-up campaign and player disputes pushed him out of the program, leading to over a decade of darkness for the Kansas program. The Jayhawks hope to repeat the success they had in the 2007 campaign with new life under coach Lance Leipold.

No. 5: 2008 Texas Tech Red Raiders

If you've never watched a game of Big 12 football in your entire life, then you may be noticing a trend here with high-powered offenses being named as the best teams in conference history. Make no mistake, the Big 12 is constantly teeming with great quarterback play, teams going toe-to-toe in high-scoring contests and overall offensive explosiveness on display.

Arguably no team represented that more than the 2008 Red Raiders. Led by "The Pirate" himself, the late, great Mike Leach, this Air Raid-style offense thrived on big pass plays for big yardage. Very few, if anyone, did it better than the duo of Graham Harrell and Michael Crabtree.

© Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SPORTS

Harrell would show off his cannon arm throughout his college career. In 2007 he would throw for a whopping 5,705 yards and 48 touchdowns and win the Sammy Baugh Award, given to the nation's best overall passer. He would follow up that stellar junior year with a just as great senior year, where he would throw for 5,111 yards and 45 touchdowns in back-to-back 5,000-plus yards passing seasons. He would win the Johnny Unita Golden Arm Award in 2008.

Harrell's favorite target though was far and away Crabtree, who would be a force throughout his two-year career with the Red Raiders. Crabtree would amass almost 2,000 yards in the 2007 season and 1,165 yards in 2008, giving him an insane 3,127 yards receiving over two years. Crabtree would finish fifth in Heisman voting and would win the Biletnikoff Award in 2008. He is still regarded as one of the best college receivers of all time.

The reasons the 2008 team supersedes the 2007 team, who had the likes of Danny Amendola and Eric Morris as well as Crabtree providing fantastic supporting roles in Leach's Air Raid, is surprisingly not just because of difference in record. Yes, 11-2 is obviously better than 9-4, but there are reasons why records are better even when individual performances are better like Harrell's and Crabtree's were in 2007.

The 2008 season featured a fuller team for the Red Raiders, highlighted by a fantastic front seven featuring First Team All-Big 12 defensive end Brandon Williams and Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year McKinner Dixon bookending the defensive line, while Big 12 Honorable Mention linebackers Brian Duncan and Marlon Williams took care of the second level. Top that with All-Big 12 First Team safeties Darcel McBath and Daniel Charbonnet watching the skies, and you had a defense more than worth their salt, a rarity in the Big 12.

The 2008 Red Raiders are a legendary team not just because of the historic three-way tie for first they were involved with in the South Division of the Big 12, but because they were the embodiment of what the Big 12 was all about, especially in the early 2000s. Explosive, flashy offenses featuring quarterbacks with golden arms. Leach and the Big 12 in the 2000s went hand in hand and this Red Raider squad finds its way onto this list for exactly that. If they had just won one or two more games, they could have found themselves as Big 12 champions and perhaps top two or three on this list.

No. 4: 2007 Missouri Tigers

The 2000s were the golden years of Big 12 football. Essentially every team was playing their best football at one point or another, with 2007 and 2008 being arguably the most competitive years in the conference ever. The 2007 Tigers were no exception and made their presence well-known. Perhaps the best Tiger squad since the 1960 Orange Bowl team, this team had talent, production and a lot of success, culminating in a Big 12 Championship game appearance.

Chase Daniel
© Brendan Maloney/USA TODAY SPORTS

On offense, the Tigers were led by Chase Daniel, who would throw for 4,306 yards and 33 touchdowns and finish fourth in Heisman voting. He was supported by a fantastic cast of receivers and running backs, including 1,000-yard rusher Tony Temple, versatile and shifty receivers Jeremy Maclin and Martin Rucker, as well as role players like goal line threat Jimmy Jackson and All-Big 12 Honorable Mention William Franklin. This offense would average 490 yards a game and 6.2 yards per play while remaining one of the more balanced units in the Big 12.

Defensively, legendary linebacker Sean Witherspoon led a front seven that would strike fear in the hearts of opposing quarterbacks. Witherspoon, Evander Hood, Lorenzo Williams, Tommy Chavis and Stryker Sulak combined for 26 sacks out of the 31.5 total sacks for this Tiger defense. The secondary for the Tigers simply cleaned up the job, with defensive back William Moore leading the FBS in 2007 with 8 total interceptions.

One of the more complete teams on this list, the Tigers were riding high after beating rival Kansas in the Border War at Arrowhead Stadium in a historic game. They would have been riding even higher had they not gotten beat by Oklahoma in heartbreaking fashion, losing 38-17 and losing out at a chance to potentially play in the National Championship. The Tigers would play in the Cotton Bowl though and proceed to wallop eventual Southeastern Conference rival Arkansas Razorbacks 38-7, capping off a historic season. Daniel would go on to be one of the best backup quarterbacks in the NFL, Maclin would carve out a productive, solid NFL career and Witherspoon would as well.

No. 3: 2011 Oklahoma State Cowboys

Another "best team in program history" candidate, the Cowboys rattled off 10 straight wins and climbed to No. 2 in the AP Poll in a meteoric rise. If it weren't for a fluky loss to Iowa State in Week 11 in double overtime, this Cowboys squad would have played for a national title. Many remember this squad as well for having one of the most dominant Bedlam victories, crushing No. 10 Oklahoma 44-10 in Stillwater right after the Iowa State loss.

Brandon Weeden celebrates
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Offensively, Brandon Weeden and Justin Blackmon were a dynamic duo that made this unit go. Weeden threw for 4,727 yards and 37 touchdowns, leading the Big 12 in essentially every passing category on his way to being named First-Team All Big 12. Blackmon was the biggest star of the show though, as he had been the year previously. The consensus All-American and back-to-back Biletnekoff Award winner followed up a stellar sophomore campaign with another great season, catching 122 receptions for 1,522 yards and 18 touchdowns. Blackmon would go on to be one of the top draft picks in the 2012 NFL Draft.

Defensively this wasn't the flashiest group, but did have standout corner Justin Gilbert, who had his coming out party in 2011 when he nabbed 5 interceptions, recorded 59 total tackles, 10 pass deflections and had a fumble recovery. He would also be a special teams standout, returning two kickoffs for touchdowns. Gilbert would go on to have a great career with the Cowboys, being named an All-American in 2013. Pass defense is what this unit excelled at, but if their run defense was a bit better, this squad easily could have beaten Iowa State and go on to the national title.

Putting what-ifs aside though, the Cowboys would go on to finish No. 3 in the final AP Poll, winning their Fiesta Bowl matchup against Stanford 41-38. The Cowboys were dominant this season, winning the Big 12 outright and showing insane offensive firepower. If it weren't for the crashing out of all three of the big stars for this Cowboy squad in the NFL, this team probably would have been remembered more for what they accomplished in college.

No. 2: 2017 Oklahoma Sooners

Lincoln Riley's 2017 squad was perhaps the most dominant Oklahoma team the Big 12 had ever seen, which says a lot. A 41-10 thumping of TCU in the Big 12 Championship game, an absolutely loaded roster, winning both the Red River Rivalry and Bedlam in statement fashion and a College Football Playoff berth cements this squad as one of Oklahoma's best to never win a national title and their best team of the past 20 years. If it weren't for a few poor play calls in the waning moments of the playoff semifinal versus Georgia, Oklahoma may have been crowned national champions this year as well.

Sooners hold up Red River trophy

The Sooner offense featured loads of star power, highlighted by quarterback Baker Mayfield, receivers Rodney Anderson, CeeDee Lamb and Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, tight end Mark Andrews and a solid backfield presence of Trey Sermon. They would average a huge 579.8 yards per game, with 361.8 yards passing and 217.8 yards rushing. Mayfield showed why he was known as one of the best walk-ons ever, throwing for 4,627 yards, rushing for 311 yards and accounting for 54 total touchdowns. Mayfield would be crowned as the Heisman winner for the 2017 season.

Defensively, linebackers Kenneth Murray, Emmanuel Beal and Ogbonnia Okoronkwo led a defense that while not widely known as one of the best in the FBS, was one of the better units in the Big 12 that season. The linebacking corps of the Sooners was the bread and butter of this unit, with defensive backs Parnell Motley, Steven Parker and William Johnson all doing their part of cleanup duty and protecting the dangerous skies of Big 12 football.

Overall, this team gets the nod over the 2008 squad due to the notoriety, star power and aura compared to the 2008 squad. Yes, the 2008 team made the National Championship, but proceeded to get walloped by the legendary 2008 Florida Gators. This team was legendary in their own right. The drama, the NFL-caliber talent, the way their season ended, all culminated into a squad that ripped through the Big 12 in commanding fashion, only losing a fluke game to Iowa State in Ames. Obviously, you can see a trend with teams having fantastic seasons going into Ames and losing, as we saw with the previous entry. If this team were to go on to win the semifinal matchup and eventually, win the National Championship, this team would have been No. 1, but there's a certain burnt orange-wearing squad from the mid-2000s that takes our No. 1 spot.

No. 1: 2005 Texas Longhorns

Let's face it. This is one of the greatest college football teams in the history of the game, if not the greatest. The 2005 Texas Longhorns take our No. 1 spot for this reason. National Champions, Rose Bowl Champions, Big 12 Champions by a mile and a half, and the list goes on. This team won and they won a lot. Not only did they win a lot, but they had perhaps the most complete top-to-bottom roster college football has ever seen, filled with stars that would eventually go on to carve out solid to excellent pro careers.

Vince Young runs in for the touchdown
© Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SPORTS

The offense was led by Maxwell Award winner and consensus All-American Vince Young. Young is widely regarded as one of the best college quarterbacks ever, with this season being his best. Young passed for a not-flashy, but still respectable 3,036 yards and 26 touchdowns, but combine that with his skills on the ground, where he rushed for 1,050 yards and 12 touchdowns, and you have the makings of one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks ever. Then you had the running backs, led by standout true freshman Jamaal Charles. Charles would rush for 878 yards and 11 touchdowns on a Big 12-leading 7.4 yards per carry. His career would go up from there though, as we would soon see. The receiving corps was a well-balanced group led by receiver Billy Pittman, who would score 5 touchdowns and have 778 receiving yards. Overall though, this was Young's show, culminating in one of the best individual performances in a National Championship game ever, where Young would rush for 200 yards and 3 touchdowns as well as pass for 267 yards.

The defense was an underrated group filled with guys that would eventually have solid to great professional careers, with an absolutely stellar front seven. Frank Okam, Brian Robison, Rodrique Wright and Tim Crowder would all be stalwarts on the defensive line, accounting for 14 total sacks. A freshman by the name of Brian Orakpo would make his presence known as well, recording a sack as well as 19 total tackles and a forced fumble. Aaron Ross, Michael Huff and Michael Griffin were a solid defensive backs trio, accounting for 8 total interceptions. Finally, senior linebacker Aaron Harris saved his best year for last, totaling 85 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 4 sacks and 1 interception. Young would not have been able to do what he was able to do without the efforts of this very solid defensive unit.

On paper, this team aside from Young wasn't that flashy, but when you watched the explosiveness and firepower of Young as well as Charles and his other supporting cast, you saw why they dominated the Big 12 like they did and eventually were crowned national champions. The 2006 Rose Bowl is widely regarded as one of the best college football games played ever where the two combatants were widely regarded as two of the best teams to ever step foot onto a college football field. When people say Texas is back, you have to wonder if they will ever be back to this caliber of team, because this was certainly one of the best, if not the best, ever.

One of the Best

Love or hate this list, these 10 teams had a significant impact on their programs and made not only the Big 12 more fun to watch but college football in general. The past 20 years of Big 12 football have brought upon some of the best teams the conference has ever seen. Legendary players, coaches and moments all culminating into dream seasons.

In the end, our memories are what shape our perception of who we consider to be the "G.O.A.T." and what seasons we consider to be the greatest in our respective programs' histories, but what truly matters is the beauty of the game of college football. The Big 12 has some of the best college football there is to offer no matter who is in the conference, which is why this new era of the Big 12 is sure to bring upon more great memories, moments, players, coaches and games.

Who knows, maybe we will see a team like 2005 Texas rise again and put respect on the Big 12's name on the national stage. In an age where the conference is going back to being incredibly competitive with the majority of teams having a solid chance at a conference title, it's certainly possible to see iron sharpen iron.


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