When the Big 12 decided to resurrect its championship game, the big selling point was the “13th data point” it would give the league in the College Football Playoff debate.
Well, that extra data point could short-circuit the Big 12’s chances of securing a spot in this season’s four-team field.
Third-ranked Oklahoma (9-1, 6-1 Big 12) wouldn’t need a 13th data point to make the playoff. If the Sooners beat Kansas and West Virginia, they’d be going to the final four, joining the SEC and ACC champs and either Wisconsin or an SEC/ACC runner-up.
But now the Sooners, who will win the regular-season title, will be asked to beat a good team a second time, never an easy task. The odds are on No. 11 TCU to join OU in the Big 12 title game Dec. 2 in Arlington, although No. 10 Oklahoma State and No. 24 West Virginia remain in the running.
“We haven’t hit our peak yet,” Sooners quarterback Baker Mayfield told reporters Monday. “We’re getting better at the right time of the year, and that’s pretty scary for the other teams out there.”
For the Big 12’s sake, let’s hope Mayfield, the obvious Heisman Trophy favorite from Lake Travis, is correct.
The league’s title game history from 1996-2010 shows plenty of examples of the underdog biting the favorite, starting with the ‘96 debut when James Brown and unranked Texas, a 20½-point underdog, popped No. 3 Nebraska 37-27.
Two years later, second-ranked Kansas State appeared bound for the inaugural BCS championship game when the Wildcats were cut down by 17-point underdog Texas A&M 36-33. The Big 12 title game also cost the league BCS spots in 2001 (Colorado over Texas) and 2007 (Oklahoma over Missouri).
On the flip side, none of those 15 title games lifted the league into national championship position.
Back then, at least there was a legitimate reason to have a title game because the Big 12 had 12 teams, two divisions and not everyone played everyone. Now, with a 10-team, no-division, full round-robin format, there’s no need for the regular-season champion to prove itself again.
It’s true that the lack of a title game in 2014 hurt Baylor’s and TCU’s chances of making the CFP. Yet history shows ‘14 was clearly the outlier, and a lot of people think that had it been Texas or Oklahoma, they would have made it.
So Oklahoma will just have to navigate Gary Patterson’s TCU defense a second time on the much more Frog-friendly turf of Arlington rather than Norman. Or the Sooners will have to survive Bedlam II after a 62-52 shootout in the original.
Did we mention the title game will make a lot of money?
A look at the three teams aiming to join OU at AT&T Stadium on the first Saturday in December:
TCU: The Horned Frogs have the simplest path — beat bottom-feeders Texas Tech and Baylor and they’re in because they hold the head-to-head tiebreaker advantage over Oklahoma State and West Virginia. Note of caution: TCU is 1-4 in its last five trips to Lubbock.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys finish at home against Kansas State and Kansas. That shouldn’t be a problem. However, they also need TCU to lose one game. That’s a problem.
West Virginia: The Mountaineers are a long shot. They have by far the toughest remaining schedule, home to Texas and at Oklahoma. They also are 0-2 in head-to-heads against TCU and Oklahoma State.
Mayfield isn’t concerned about data points or whatever rematch the Sooners have on Dec. 2.
“You’re going to get everybody’s best shot this late in the year, so we’ve got to be ready to bring ours, too,” he said.
Even if it’s once more than necessary.
BIG 12 POWER POLL
Rnk (prv) Team;W-L (conf.);Next opponent;Comment
1. (1) Oklahoma;9-1 (6-1);at Kansas (1-9), Sat.;Baker Mayfield is the best, but Sooners’ 3-man RB committee is averaging 5.8, 6.2 and 10.1 yards per carry.
2. (2) TCU;8-2 (5-2);at Texas Tech (5-5), Sat.;No hanging your heads, Frogs: Beat Tech and Baylor and you’re in Big 12 championship game.
3. (3) Oklahoma State;8-2 (5-2);vs. Kansas State (5-5), Sat.;Triplets: Mason Rudolph, Justice Hill and James Washington top Big 12 in passing, rushing and receiving yards.
4. (5) West Virginia;7-3 (5-2);vs. Texas (5-5), Sat.;Did you know: WR David Sills, Big 12 scoring leader, was 7th-grade QB commitment of Lane Kiffin, USC?
5. (4) Iowa State;6-4 (4-3);at Baylor (1-9), Sat.;Provided Cyclones finish strong, lots of bowls will want this eager fan base in their game.
6. (6) Texas;5-5 (4-3);at West Virginia (7-3), Sat.;Any upset hopes probably depend on Horns finding ground game vs. 94th-ranked rush defense.
7. (7) Kansas State;5-5 (3-4);at Oklahoma State (8-2), Sat.;Cats outgained by 560 yards for season and torched for league-worst 303.4 passing yards per game.
8. (8) Texas Tech;5-5 (2-5);vs. TCU (8-2), Sat.;Almost astonishing that Red Raiders are +10 in turnover ratio (10th in NCAA) yet merely .500.
9. (9) Baylor;1-9 (1-6);vs. Iowa State (6-4), Sat.;Lake Travis QB Charlie Brewer is part of long-term solution, but he’ll need dozens of new helpers.
10. (10) Kansas;1-9 (0-7);vs. Oklahoma (9-1), Sat.;OK, found something positive: LB Joe Dineen tops Big 12 in tackles for losses (20.5). Yay, we did it!