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College Sports: For a conference constantly under scrutiny, the Big 12 provided some of the bowl season’s biggest moments

In the grand scheme of the college power structure, bowl records don’t matter a whole lot — until they do.

They matter if a conference is really good or absolutely abysmal. And they matter when the conference is under siege for its performance and play.

All of which brings us to the Big 12, which went 4-3 this bowl season (6-1 against the spread for you degenerate gamblers). The Big 12 is now 13-8 the past three seasons, not bad given how the conference was heavily scrutinized after the 2014 playoff snub and the performance of its defenses. By the way, Big 12 teams allowed a respectable average of 25.3 points in the seven bowls.

For those who won, does this mean offseason momentum? It beats the alternative. Just ask Major Applewhite.

Here’s a quick look back at the bowl season:

Most impactful win

Everybody will be talking about Sam Ehlinger’s proclamation following Texas’s Sugar Bowl victory over Georgia. But the game was big for Texas on a national stage. Georgia was the kind of SEC team that was supposed to shred a Big 12 opponent. Didn’t happen. Tom Herman’s rebuilding process gained more believers.

Biggest what-if

The past two seasons, Oklahoma has gone to the College Football Playoff with a record-setting Heisman winner. The past two seasons, the Sooners have fallen in the semifinals because the defense couldn’t deliver enough stops when necessary. The loss to Alabama was far more lopsided than the one to Georgia after 2017. Still, Sooners fans have to be wondering what even an average defense would have done. No wonder there’s so much focus on Lincoln’s Riley defensive coordinator hire.

Best use of advertising dollars

That would be the newly renamed Cheez-It Bowl, where TCU outlasted Cal in overtime. In the process, the social media reaction to nine interceptions, a goofy trick play and all sorts of assorted goodness made this a win for the title sponsor (and the Horned Frogs). CBS Sports called it “just beautifully bad football.” Runner-up in the wheels-off bowl competition? Oklahoma State’s win over Missouri, which was actually the sort of predictable craziness given both team’s seasons.

Biggest endorsement

Baylor’s Texas Bowl win over Vanderbilt gained new life the next day courtesy of Clemson coach Dabo Swinney and his answer to a question about what bowls mean now in the playoff era. Consider it a big endorsement for Baylor coach Matt Rhule and his program. “I watched Baylor win last night. And coach Rhule, man, that’s what it’s all about,” Swinney said while preparing for the Cotton Bowl. “How pumped was coach Rhule? How pumped was he? How excited were those kids after the game?”

Result not indicative of what’s to come

Iowa State earned an Alamo Bowl bid in part because of its ability to deliver fans. The Cyclones didn’t disappoint in that area. Despite a narrow loss to Washington State and Mike Leach, Iowa State still has the look of a program on the rise under Matt Campbell with 16 wins in two seasons for the first time since 2000-01.

Most bittersweet bowl

West Virginia began the season with playoff hopes, which actually looked realistic until consecutive losses to end the regular season. Then quarterback Will Grier skipped a Big East reunion with Syracuse in the Camping World Bowl, the offensive predictably struggled and soon after coach Dana Holgorsen departed for Houston after eight seasons.

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