The occasion of the first College Football Playoff rankings inspired another round of Big 12 expansion chatter. Nothing serious, just the usual query: Is the Big 12 harmed in the championship chase without a title game?
The answer is, it hasn’t been in the three years without a title-game spectacle. What kept the Big 12 out of the BCS Championship Game since 2011 was a late loss by its undefeated team in November, the same kind of loss that, except in rare instances, keeps any team out of a championship.
In 2011, second-ranked Oklahoma State lost at Iowa State. In 2012, second-ranked Kansas State lost at Baylor. Last season, fourth-ranked Baylor lost at Oklahoma State.
All the leaders picked a lousy time to drop their first game. The losses by the Wildcats and Bears were so overwhelming to not allow a bounce back. The 2011 Cowboys had a strongest case to be in the title game but lost out to an Alabama team that had a similar record but suffered its loss earlier in the season.
The Big 12 has smartly scheduled marquee games on the season’s final Saturday. All of the championship flags have been planted on that day, just like they are in the other conferences with a title game.
This year on Dec. 6, the teams that are one through six in the standings, except for West Virginia, play. On last year’s final day, the trophy literally traveled from one campus to another on a thrilling final day. It wouldn’t be a stunner if that happened this year.
And if any of the teams that have one loss today — Kansas State, TCU or Baylor — wins out, I’d be surprised if it wasn’t in the College Football Playoff, especially the Wildcats and Horned Frogs.
Saturday’s SEC games
▪ Louisiana-Monroe at Texas A&M, 11 a.m., on SEC Network: The Aggies, looking for their first victory since Sept. 27, will sport some cool throwback threads and helmets from 1939. It’s not the leather hat, but there will be leather-like texture on the helmets.
▪ Florida vs. Georgia at Jacksonville, Fla., 2:30 p.m., on CBS (Ch. 5): Can Will Muschamp save his job with an upset? Georgia is emerging as the East Division power and can’t afford a loss here. Nick Chubb and the Bulldogs running game will be tested by the Gators’ defensive front. Georgia has won three straight following a Florida run of 18-3.
▪ Kentucky at Missouri, 3 p.m., on SEC Network: Wildcats quarterback Patrick Towles is coming off a terrific game against Mississippi State, 390 yards and two touchdowns, plus 76 rushing yards and another two scores. Missouri’s offense had been struggling but looked good in the second half against Vanderbilt.
▪ Auburn at Mississippi, 6 p.m., on ESPN: The Rebels had to be buoyed by the College Football Playoff rankings that had them fourth after the LSU loss. They also got good news on the injury front with three starters, including safety Cody Prewitt and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche, in pads earlier this week after suffering injuries against LSU.
▪ Old Dominion vs. Vanderbilt, 6 p.m., on ESPNU: Vandy is getting better. The Commodores started their fourth different quarterback of the season in last week’s loss to Missouri, and redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary threw a couple of touchdown passes. The Monarchs have lost four straight, the latest a 66-51 crunching by Western Kentucky last week.
▪ Arkansas at Mississippi State, 6:15 p.m., on ESPN2: The Razorbacks are hungry to break their 16-game SEC losing streak, and what better way than to win at the nation’s top-ranked team? The Bulldogs came out tight against Kentucky, their first game as a No. 1 ranked team.
▪ Tennessee at South Carolina, 6:30 p.m., SEC Network: The Gamecocks defense has been a disappointment. The offense tried to keep up with Auburn last week but South Carolina fell by a touchdown. Tennessee hasn’t named its starting quarterback, but the speculation has centered on sophomore Joshua Dobbs, who threw for nearly 200 yards and rushed for nearly 100 against Alabama.
Saturday’s Big 12 games
▪ Oklahoma at Iowa State, 11 a.m., on Fox Sports 1: Oklahoma is the only Big 12 program, current or former, the Cyclones haven’t defeated since the Big 12 was created. Dating to Big Eight games, the Sooners have won 21 straight in Ames. Quarterback Sam Richardson has firmly established himself as Iowa State’s quarterback, and his mobility could give the Sooners trouble.
▪ TCU at West Virginia, 2:30 p.m., on ABC (Chs. 2, 9): The league’s marquee game is between teams that weren’t in the league four years ago. But behind terrific play by quarterbacks Trevone Boykin of TCU and West Virginia’s Clint Trickett, they’ve risen through the ranks.
▪ Kansas at Baylor, 3 p.m. on Fox Sports 1: Michael Cummings has injected life in the Jayhawks offense, and linebacker Ben Heeney leads the Big 12 in tackles. Baylor’s had an additional week to stew over its first loss to West Virginia. Bears running back Shock Linwood leads the Big 12 in rushing at 99.4 yards per game.
▪ Texas at Texas Tech, 6:30 p.m., on Fox Sports 1: Tech quarterback Davis Webb left last week’s game on crutches, adding injury to the insult of an 82-27 loss at TCU. Webb’s listed as day to day, and if he can’t go, the snaps will be taken by freshman Patrick Mahomes.
▪ Oklahoma State at Kansas State, 7 p.m., on ABC (Chs. 2, 9): The Wildcats get it done on both sides of the ball. Lately it’s been the defense that stopped Oklahoma in key moments two weeks ago and pitched a shutout against Texas last week. That’s bad news for Oklahoma State, which has scored 19 points in the past two weeks.