The SEC's dream and the Big 12's nightmare play out Saturday afternoon in Texas. What should be one of the Big 12's best days to showcase its brand (Oklahoma-Texas) will pale in comparison to the national significance of the SEC's top game (Texas A&M-Tennessee).
The top-10 matchup everyone wants to watch on Saturday will be the first Texas A&M-Tennessee SEC game, not the Red River Showdown.
The very early College Football Playoff implications will be felt in College Station, where ESPN's "College GameDay" will be stationed, not at the Cotton Bowl for Oklahoma-Texas.
The SEC is the one that lately owns the Houston television market, not the Big 12.
The SEC's planning by former commissioner Mike Slive produced this Texas strategy, not the Big 12's dysfunction.
When Texas A&M left for the SEC in 2012, then-Longhorns athletic director DeLoss Dodds condescendingly said the Aggies' recruiting was limited to "a sliver down the east side" of Texas. While Texas A&M still hasn't won a championship since joining the SEC, the Aggies and the entire SEC are benefitting on TV and in recruiting from the state of Texas.
The fact is Houston, the fourth-largest city in America, is now an SEC town. That should be a very tough pill for the Big 12 to swallow.
Last year, six of the 10 most-watched college football games in Houston came from the SEC. Alabama's games against Texas A&M, Florida and LSU all drew higher ratings than Oklahoma-Texas. When SEC commissioner Greg Sankey was asked if he expected several years ago for SEC games to draw more Houston viewers than the Big 12, he bluntly responded, "Yes."
"Our vision has always been to reach people beyond only our 11 states, and Texas is the SEC," Sankey said. "Texas A&M did a great job saying Texas is SEC country, and I think you see that reality reflected in those TV ratings. We've gone to the Cotton Bowl. We've gone to the Texas Bowl in Houston. Our alumni bases in those cities are huge."
Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby declined to comment for this article. The Big 12 is considering expanding -- Houston is one of the candidates -- but it's possible the conference will stay put. A future question looms for the Big 12: Will Texas and Oklahoma go elsewhere in the next decade?
On Saturday, Oklahoma-Texas won't match ranked teams for the third straight year. It's a byproduct of the Longhorns' ongoing struggles, though the Sooners are 2-2 this year after losses to top-10 teams Houston and Ohio State. Texas and Oklahoma were both ranked in 12 of their previous 13 meetings, including four top-10 games.
For the third straight year, Oklahoma and Texas enter the Red River Showdown with four combined losses. Until 2014, these teams hadn't entered their annual rivalry game with those many defeats since 1998
It's a real problem for the Big 12 when its two marquee programs struggle and the conference's playoff hopes already look dicey in early October. On the surface, there aren't many reasons for a national audience to tune into many Big 12 games moving forward.
So far in 2016, Big 12 teams have been involved in three of the top 20 highest-rated games, according to Sports Media Watch. The number of top-20 rated games by other leagues: SEC nine, Big Ten seven, ACC four, Pac-12 three.
Last week, Oklahoma-TCU -- which should have been one of the Big 12's most attractive matchups -- drew fewer viewers than Alabama-Kentucky. Earlier this season, Oklahoma State-Baylor (two quality Big 12 teams in recent seasons) had fewer eyeballs than Duke-Notre Dame and Florida State-South Florida.
The Big 12's talent drain comes on the front end (high school recruiting rankings) and on the back end (NFL draft picks). Texas' struggles are certainly a big part of this equation. But it's probably no coincidence the talent drain occurred after Missouri, Texas A&M, Colorado and Nebraska had all left by the Big 12 by 2012.
In 2010, the Big 12 signed 41 of the top 50 recruits from Texas. The SEC got just three. By 2016, the scoreboard read 22 for the Big 12, 20 for the SEC.
That dramatic change can't simply be explained by Texas A&M bringing its Texas prospects to the SEC. The Aggies had only six top-50 players from Texas in 2016, according to 247Sports. Meanwhile, the number of non-Texas A&M SEC schools to sign top-50 Texas players soared to 14 (up from three in 2010 and up from seven as recently as 2015).
The starting quarterback for No. 1 Alabama is Jalen Hurts, a true freshman from Channelview, Texas. Hurts' other two finalists were reportedly SEC schools (Texas A&M and Mississippi State).
The SEC's second-leading rusher is Arkansas' Rawleigh Williams III, a sophomore who comes from Dallas. Williams was once committed to another SEC school (Ole Miss).
The SEC's second-leading receiver in yards is Missouri's J'Mon Moore, a junior from Missouri City, Texas. He reportedly chose Missouri over West Virginia, Texas Tech, TCU, Oklahoma State and Miami.
Recruiting better players in Texas wasn't part of the SEC's strategy when it added Texas A&M, Sankey said. Instead, he points to Texas A&M's recruiting success opening doors for other SEC schools.
"You've got to keep some things in mind contextually," Sankey said. "Our universities are recruiting the state of Texas for their student body in aggressive manners. A number of SEC schools have recruiting offices for students in Houston, Dallas and San Antonio so they're very intentional about recruiting that state in an overall fashion."
Meanwhile, Big 12 talent has decreased since 2010 when it became the first conference at the NFL Draft to have the first four players picked. From 2014-16, the Big 12 averaged 6.8 NFL Draft picks per school, trailing the SEC (11.0), Pac-12 (8.8), ACC (8.2) and Big Ten (8.0). The Big 12 did fare better in 2016 when it produced more draft picks per school than the ACC.
The Big 12 talent drain is even more startling when looking at first- and second-round picks per school between 2014-16: SEC 3.6, Big Ten 3.4, Pac-12 2.5, ACC 2.2, and Big 12 1.3. The Big 12 has been closer to the American Athletic Conference in producing first- and second-round players than to any of the Power Five conferences.
Beyond Texas getting better, there is no slam-dunk solution for the Big 12 to quickly reverse this fortune. If there was an obvious expansion choice, the Big 12 would have moved by now.
Still, some of the thinking by Big 12 schools is incredibly shortsighted. Kansas State offensive coordinator Dana Dimel told Kansas.com that, should Houston get into the Big 12, "they will be tough to beat in recruiting because of the proximity."
Here's a more pressing question for the remaining Big 12 schools: What is the state of Texas going to look like if the Sooners and Longhorns one day leave? All things being equal, why wouldn't the Big 12 want to try to regain the Houston market?
Saturday provides just the latest example that the sliver of Texas is growing for the SEC and slipping away from the Big 12.