Saturday marks the only weekend of the college football season that the Big 12 should feel slighted in the national conversation of upcoming games, and this year that’s a good thing.
Two games remain to close the book on the fifth year of a 10-team, round-robin schedule. Texas visits Baylor, and Kansas State hosts West Virginia. Postseason implications are part of both games, with the Bears likely headed to the Sugar Bowl with a victory.
The Wildcats can guarantee bowl eligibility with a triumph that pulls their overall record to even. A bowl remains possible with a loss.
But conference championship Saturday, a showdown day that the Big 12 helped create, will pass without a grand finale in this region. As it relates to the league’s opportunity to participate in the College Football Playoff, Oklahoma finds itself in a can’t-lose situation.
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Because the Sooners don’t play, they likely already have won their way into the semifinal bracket.
Oklahoma stands at No. 3 in the playoff rankings. The top four make the semifinals, and the 12-member selection committee will determine the field announced Sunday.
Clemson and Alabama are ranked ahead of Oklahoma. Iowa and Michigan State are just behind. Only one is guaranteed not to lose.
Maybe playing on the final weekend was TCU’s problem last year, the inaugural go of the playoff. The Horned Frogs were ranked precisely where Oklahoma is today. But they played on that final Saturday, trouncing Iowa State, and fell three spots.
Perhaps an idle Saturday would have better served TCU.
Because neither the Frogs nor Baylor, which defeated TCU during the season and owned the same record, made the field, the outcry from Big 12 fans was loud and alternatives were suggested.
Like, how about a season-ending playoff game between the top two teams, once granted permission by the NCAA?
If such a game were in place this year, an Oklahoma-Baylor rematch would likely have been the tussle.
Their regular-season game was entertaining, a Sooners 44-34 triumph in Waco. But a full round-robin schedule and a title-game rematch would put the Big 12 at a competitive disadvantage against other conferences that don’t put their teams through the same test.
Plus, there’s a history of the Big 12 taking out its own. Four times in the 15-year history of the championship game, the better-ranked team — Nebraska in 1996, Kansas State in 1998, Texas in 2001 and Missouri in 2007 — lost a chance to play for the national championship because it failed to win the league title.
This year, the Big 12’s schedule turned out to be back loaded. The highest-ranked teams didn’t start facing off until November, setting up mega battles every weekend. There are pros and cons here. On the downside, late losses are more difficult to overcome in rankings.
But there were enough games against quality teams that if one got through unscathed, it would appear formidable. The schedule favored Oklahoma State, with the three other opponents at home. But the Sooners took advantage and swept Baylor, TCU and the Cowboys.
Oklahoma was No. 15 in the first playoff poll, earned by the Texas loss. But the Sooners roared back, jumping from 12th to seventh after beating Baylor, and to third after holding off TCU. Beating the Cowboys solidified their top-four spot.
This week, the college football talk is about Clemson and Alabama avoiding upsets, the Big Ten clash and Stanford’s chances of making the field if certain teams fall.
Nobody’s talking about Oklahoma, and for the Big 12, the silence is golden.