You could argue that Baylor was the story of the 2010s in the Big 12. Oklahoma obviously dominated most of the decade, winning 6.5 Big 12 titles, making four playoff appearances, and putting up the following record against the rest of the league:
A completely inability to deal with Oklahoma was truly the primary obstacle to every other Big 12 team’s path to titles and national relevance. TCU’s one win over Oklahoma this decade came in 2014, the Sooners’ worst season at 8-5 which lead to the hire of Lincoln Riley.
The years that Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State won Big 12 titles are the same seasons that they beat Oklahoma. 2013 and 2014 for the Bears, 2011 for the Cowboys, and 2012 for the Wildcats.
Texas came “close” to winning the Big 12 on two occasions this decade. First in 2013, which ended in the “derp on ice” classic amidst the “ice fog” of Waco in which the Bears pummeled the Case McCoy-lead Longhorns and sent Mack Brown into the television business. That Texas team shocked OU in the Cotton Bowl 36-20 but Case reverted to form against Oklahoma State and Baylor and the Longhorns blew their chance. Then in 2018 they took down Kyler Murray’s Sooners in the Red River Shootout but lost the rematch in Arlington. They also somehow beat Oklahoma in 2015 but were otherwise inept that year.
You can tell the story of the 2010s Big 12 with four different protagonists, but one in particular is pretty interesting and sets up an interesting sequel for the 2020s.
Protagonist 1: The Oklahoma Sooners
OU had a fantastic decade and accumulated a lot of hardware, although it should be noted that they went 4-6 in their Bowl games with only Ls in the playoffs and multiple humiliating blowouts. You can tell the story of the 2010s as Oklahoma owning the conference, passing the torch seamlessly from Bob Stoops to Lincoln Riley, and being poised to carry their domination into the new decade with a chance at making another step with their new head coach and building a National Championship team.
That’s a pretty normal decade for the Sooners though, who’ve had a few other decades in which they dominated their region only to get crushed by national competition (70s, 80s, and 00s).
Protagonist 2: The Texas Longhorns
The most resource-rich program in the Big 12, the big dog, the program with a most recent National Championship, had a dreadful decade. Things went to hell almost immediately at the 2010 Rose Bowl where they played Alabama to determine the 2009 National Champion. Colt McCoy famously went down early in the game and although freshman QB Garrett Gilbert fought to within 24-21 with two minutes left in the game, the Longhorns lost. Then they proceeded to have four losing seasons and only one 10-win campaign while cycling through replacements for Mack Brown in a search that may not yet be over.
There’s no telling what the league looks like for Oklahoma or anyone else if Texas had simply managed to get their stuff together at any point this decade. They’re in better shape heading into the 2020s but hardly peaking.
Protagonist 3: The Fighting Aggies of Texas A&M
The decade looked pretty different for every team that left the Big 12 after those early 2010s seasons but I think the biggest ramifications were for A&M. The Aggies wanted to be free of Texas and to go collect their SEC payday, so they did. Then they immediately produced a Heisman winner and 12-2 team that would have been a lock to win a Big 12 title in 2012 and perhaps a National Championship had they had the easier path of not facing LSU and Florida.
Texas A&M claims to be quite happy taking Ls in the SEC West and spending huge money to win 7-9 games a season in order to collect SEC TV rights money and have a seat at the “grown up table.” You also wonder though what they might have made of the Big 12 in the 2010s with Texas down.
Protagonist 4: The Baylor Bears
With Texas A&M choosing the SEC payday over further attempts to win in the Big 12 and Texas languishing in mediocrity, the door was open for someone else in the region to make a bid for league contention.
TCU quickly got in on the action, but Gary Patterson’s defensive approach neither allowed them to build the quality of offenses necessary to win the ultimate offensive league nor even to stop the other offenses in the league.
West Virginia also moved in and played B12-ball to the best of their ability under Dana Holgorsen, but it wasn’t enough. Oklahoma State had that early push at the beginning of the decade but Mike Gundy fired ultra-effective DC Bill Young for reasons I’ve never understood and hasn’t been able to replace his success on that side of the ball. Kansas State made a game effort but they spent most of the decade in the second Snyder era, riding into the sunset with the old man. Texas Tech had just pushed out Mike Leach for reasons of apparent personal spite and they never recovered between that loss and then the emergence of other in-state programs.
The out of state poachers Missouri, Nebraska, and Colorado all left behind their primary affiliation with the booming state of Texas…and all that left plenty of room for that private school in Waco to emerge.
There’s a lot of Dallas money and mindset connected to the Bears and when Art Briles started establishing proof of concept early in the decade you started to see Baylor’s basketball recruiting decrease in scope under Scott Drew while football has seen increasingly big investment and a fair amount of ROI to boot.
Things have really picked up now. The Bears hired Dave Aranda, who’s subsequently made some interesting hires including LSU pass game guru Jorge Munoz and Texas A&M assistant director of something or another Austin Thomas. The former Aggie Thomas will be the “General Manager of Football Operations” in Waco, which will be a recruiting position. Let the reader understand, the Bears are hiring someone with institutional knowledge of SEC recruiting ops.
With the Dave Aranda hire, more than getting a zone blitz guru or a smart coach with a National Championship ring, the Bears are showing that they’re continuing to invest into big time football.
The decade started with Baylor’s sudden emergence and a Heisman trophy, then everything nearly came apart with the Art Briles scandal, but they burned everything down below the Board of Regents and hired Matt Rhule to get things back on track. You can very easily tell the story of 2010s Big 12 football as the rise of Baylor and now they’re investing and shoring up their football institutions to build on that success in the 2020s.
The state of Texas is booming like few places in the world, the population is big and getting bigger, and there may be room for another major football power. That’s Baylor’s bet and how that bet pans out will definitely be a story in the 2020s.
Read all about Art Briles’ rise, his battles with Oklahoma, and his influence and schematic legacy on the Big 12 in my book: