College football’s closing weekend offers championship games in the SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12, C-USA, AAC, Mountain West and the MAC. Then there’s Bedlam.
Oklahoma State at Oklahoma isn’t officially designated as the Big 12 title game, an event that will return in 2017 after a six-year hiatus.
Yet that’s exactly what it is.
“I’m not sure people elsewhere realize this is the fourth time in six years that Bedlam has decided the Big 12 champion,” said Cowboys coach Mike Gundy.
The only regret north of the Red River is that the latest Bedlam winner will be the longest of long shots to squeeze into the College Football Playoff, barring cataclysmic events elsewhere.
“You always want to have a chance at the national championship and the playoffs, but it doesn’t work every year,” said Sooners coach Bob Stoops, whose team reached the CFP semifinals last season. “You do the best you can. Our goal is to win Big 12 titles. We’ve been pretty successful at that.”
Oklahoma has won nine of those. Nobody else has more than three.
Oklahoma State, which suffered a controversial loss to Central Michigan and also fell at Baylor, is further back in the playoff committee’s pecking order.
“I consider (Central Michigan) a win for us, and I always will,” Gundy said. “I thought we put a committee together to take out the computer element and make decisions like that,” regarding how the CMU game played out. The Chippewas won 30-27 after officials made a mistake and gave them an extra play, upon which they scored.
Saturday’s Bedlam winner looks destined for the Sugar Bowl against an SEC team, perhaps Auburn.
The game will feature endless firepower, two top-15 scoring and total offenses, and individual stars like quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph and receivers Dede Westbrook and James Washington. Additionally, Mayfield and Westbrook, a pair of Central Texans, harbor hopes of an invitation to New York for the Heisman Trophy ceremony.
Since the Big 12 went to 10 teams and a round-robin schedule in 2011, the Oklahoma schools have dominated. The Sooners are 42-11 in conference games. The Cowboys are next at 38-15. Nobody else has more than 35 league wins. This year, neither Oklahoma team has lost since September.
This might be the last time Bedlam takes place at the close of the regular season, though, since the Big 12 might want to avoid a scenario in which the teams would meet in successive weeks after the return of the Big 12 title game.
“Maybe the Big 12 looks at the timing of this game,” Stoops said. “It would be unusual to play the same team two weeks in a row.”
Gundy and several Big 12 coaches preferred dividing the league into divisions.
“I voted for divisions that could break along geographical lines,” Gundy said. “Then you probably wouldn’t get teams playing each other back-to-back.”
Bill Snyder of Kansas State said creating divisions would have brought other benefits, too.
“That’s always been my preference,” the 77-year-old coach said. “Divisions gave virtually every team a chance to be relevant late in the season. We have trophies here in Manhattan we wouldn’t have had otherwise.”
Added West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen: “I thought divisions were the only way to go.”
Yet there is another side to the argument.
“If you go to divisions, you might have a 7-5 team playing an 11-1 team, and that doesn’t help the top team’s chances with the committee,” said Gary Patterson of TCU. “We’re having a championship game to get a Big 12 team in the playoffs. That’s the sole reason. TCU got hurt two years ago by not having one.”
Baylor interim coach Jim Grobe agreed, saying that “you don’t always get the best two teams in the title game with divisions.”
This year, there is no question the cream of the league will decide the issue in Norman. Oklahoma State beat third-place West Virginia by 17 points; OU beat WVU by 28.
“We have a chance to win the Big 12 title on our home field,” Westbrook, a senior from Cameron Yoe High, told reporters. “What a perfect way that would be to go out in my last game in Norman.”
BIG 12 POWER POLL
Rnk (prv) Team;W-L (conf.);Next opponent;Postseason outlook
1. (1) Oklahoma;9-2 (8-0);vs. Oklahoma State (9-2), Sat.;Sooners need chaos, not just Bedlam, to return to playoffs. Sugar Bowl vs. SEC is appealing alternative.
2. (2) Oklahoma State;9-2 (7-1) at Oklahoma (9-2), Sat.;If Cowboys upset Sooners, they win league title, return to Sugar and probably kick OU to Alamo Bowl.
3. (3) West Virginia;9-2 (6-2);vs. Baylor (6-5), Sat.;Mountaineers aim for ninth 10-win season, trip to either Orlando (Russell Athletic) or San Antonio (Alamo).
4. (4) Kansas State;7-4 (5-3);at TCU (6-5), Sat.;Texas Bowl could grab Wildcats-Frogs winner. Liberty also in play, but Cats went to Memphis last year.
5. (5) TCU;6-5 (4-4);vs. Kansas State (7-4), Sat.;If Horned Frogs win, they might bump into Texas A&M in Houston. Liberty definitely a possibility.
6. (6) Baylor;6-5 (3-5);at West Virginia (9-2), Sat.;Unless flopping Bears stun WVU, sure looks like they’ll end up in Cactus Bowl vs. wild-card team.
7. (7) Texas;5-7 (3-6);* season over;Longhorns one of only nine Power Five teams (ISU, KU included) who’ve failed to be bowl eligible for past two years.
8. (9) Texas Tech;5-7 (3-6);season over;NCAA passing leader Patrick Mahomes may have played last game for Raiders, bowl-less in two of past three years.
9. (8) Iowa State;3-9 (2-7);season over;Cyclones suffering four-year bowl-less drought since appearing in Pinstripe and Liberty back-to-back.
10. (10) Kansas;2-10 (1-8);season over;Jayhawks have made only 12 bowl games, none since 2008 Insight, but they did beat Texas.
*Texas is on Academic Progress Rate short list of bowl replacement teams. The remaining Power Five schools that haven’t been eligible for bowls games in the past two years: Syracuse, Virginia, Rutgers, Illinois, Purdue, Oregon State, Missouri.