Big 12 Conference media days wrapped up Tuesday in Dallas, and seemingly everyone in attendance had glowing things to say about new league members TCU and West Virginia.
A few examples:
Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads, on WVU: “They'll come in and compete immediately. I would expect them to come in and compete for a conference championship. They're that level of program and always have been.”
Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, on TCU: “They always play well. They're used to winning championships. Gary [Patterson] does an outstanding job coaching along with his staff. So they'll be tough. There's no question.”
It would be hard to argue with Rhoads and Stoops, as both the Horned Frogs and Mountaineers have competed at the highest levels of college football in the past decade. But beyond the actual on-field merits, another question lies under the surface: do these programs truly belong in the Big 12?
The answer, when it comes to TCU, seems to be an obvious “yes.” The Big 12 makes its headquarters in Irving, Tex. -- only a few miles from the school's campus in Fort Worth.
Given the school's proximity and its success in football (a 47-5 record and a Rose Bowl win since 2008 alone), TCU was one of the more obvious choices to replace Texas A&M when the Aggies announced their departure for the SEC last fall.
West Virginia's case seems a bit less certain. Geography certainly isn't on its side -- Morgantown, W.Va., is almost 900 miles from the Mountaineers' nearest Big 12 neighbor, Iowa State. Nearly 1500 miles separate WVU from the Lubbock, Tex., campus of Texas Tech.
The quality of football West Virginia brings to the league certainly measures up. The school played for the national championship in the 1989 Fiesta Bowl against Notre Dame and had a shot at least a share of a national title in the 1994 Sugar Bowl against Florida.
More recently, WVU won at least a share of the Big East title six times since 2003 and has three BCS bowl wins in the last seven years -- the 2006 Sugar Bowl over SEC champion Georgia, the 2008 Fiesta Bowl over Big 12 winner Oklahoma and the 2012 Orange Bowl over ACC champion Clemson.
The on-field merits show the Mountaineers should be able to compete in the Big 12. But the culture may be an even better match.
West Virginia's Milan Puskar Stadium, with a capacity of about 60,000, isn't exactly huge by Big 12 standards. But on a game day Saturday, it holds more people than reside in the largest city in the state of West Virginia, Charleston (population: 51,177). Yes, football matters in the Mountain State.
Indeed, it could be argued WVU was never an ideal cultural fit for the Big East. The conference was founded as a northeastern basketball league, with an initial membership comprised of relatively small, urban, private Catholic institutions. Football was not added until the 1990s.
West Virginia as a state is hardly urban, and while basketball has gained a sizable following over the course of a successful past decade, football is the chief obsession within its serpentine borders. WVU as a university is a large, public land-grant school -- the “flagship” institution of the state, as AD Oliver Luck often says.
Even the mascots show some parallelism: Oklahoma State's Pistol Pete and Texas Tech's Masked Rider and Raider Red carry pistols; West Virginia's Mountaineer totes a musket.
Perhaps the geography makes it seem like an unnatural fit, but culturally, WVU matches up far better with Iowa State, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas than with Providence, Seton Hall and Syracuse.
The Big 12 holdovers may have to get used to a slightly longer flight every few years to Morgantown, but beyond that inconvenience, it seems clear -- especially after Big 12 media days -- that both of the league's new additions should fit in just fine.
For more up-to-the-minute news and analysis from Big 12 bloggers C.J. Moore and Patrick Southern, follow @CBSSportsBig12.