The Big 12 Conference has a tough road ahead of them, but not an impossible one. Two teams are currently trying to break into the first ever College Football Playoff, but it won’t be easy.
Baylor enters week 14 ranked seventh, with TCU two spots ahead of them. As of now, neither team would be in the playoffs. One thing which could either become a blessing or an absolute nightmare is playing in a conference without a championship game.
The Big 12 Conference prides itself on “one true champion”. The conference has not held an official championship game since 2010 after the departures of Nebraska and Colorado left the conference at 10 teams. This notion of “one true champion” may very well be thrown into the face of the conference, if the conference features co-champions. It may also destroy the conference’s chance of placing a team into the playoffs.
On the other hand, if Florida State or Oregon lose in their conference championship games, the Big 12 may sneak a team in. The Seminoles are destined to play a Georgia Tech team coached by Paul Johnson. One thing Johnson’s teams are known for is holding onto the football with their triple option offense. This offense notoriously took Navy from one of the worst teams in the nation to a consistent bowl team. It has not worked quite as well in the Atlantic Coast Conference, but could prove to be the answer to beating to a Jameis Winston-led team. Florida State is undefeated with the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner running the show. Next up, the Seminoles play a Florida, who has already told their coach his services will no longer be needed after the season.
Meanwhile, Oregon is still awaiting their opponent. Arizona State, UCLA and Arizona are all tied atop the Pac 12 South. The Ducks will play arch-rival Oregon State in the regular season finale.
One mistake by either team and there is a good chance those two conferences are left out of the mix. UCLA could make a late jump. If UCLA beats Stanford, they will play Oregon for the conference title. A win over the Ducks could skyrocket the Bruins into the top four.
Here’s where things get tricky. What happens if Ole Miss upsets Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl? The door flies open. The Rebels have three losses, so count them out (unless the SEC bias is seriously that strong). The Bulldogs have to beat Ole Miss and hope Alabama loses a home game to Auburn. Possible? Yes. Likely? Not with the Crimson Tide remembering what happened in the jungle one year ago. Therefore, Mississippi State is unlikely to go to the SEC Championship.
Ohio State entered their matchup with Indiana as the fifth ranked team. The Buckeyes have a weakness though … the Big Ten Conference. Conference power Michigan is in the midst of a down season. Could a Big 12 team jump Ohio State? First off, the Buckeyes must beat Michigan. Secondly, Ohio State must hope a TCU victory over Texas doesn’t place the Horned Frogs over them. Thirdly, they must beat the winner of Wisconsin and Minnesota.
But, the door is definitely still open for Baylor.
Texas is improving. The Longhorns have no shot at making the playoffs. They’re not even in the rankings. But, Charlie Strong’s team is on the rise. Freshman quarterback Tyrone Swoopes is improving. Add the strong rushing game and possibly the best defense in the Big 12, and TCU is going to have a tough time on Thanksgiving night in Austin.
If TCU loses to Texas, it could set up an unofficial Big 12 championship game in Waco. Kansas State and Baylor would have one loss each if they win this weekend’s games. The Wildcats host a Kansas team who has an interim head coach. Baylor plays a Texas Tech team with a secondary that has zero depth and a quarterback controversy. Both opponents are guaranteed losing seasons.
Baylor has not lost in Waco since Oct. 13, 2012. That is their only loss in Waco since 2010. The Bears have not lost to Kansas State at home since 2002. History and home field advantage are in Baylor’s favor. They just have to win. If the Bears win out, chances are the Bears jump Ohio State. With a Texas victory over TCU and one more upset of a top-four team, the Bears are in the playoffs with the Big 12 title.
On the other hand, what if none of the top four lose, and despite the Big Ten having an awful season, Ohio State wins the championship game and stays ahead of the Big 12 champion? The Big 12 will then look awful, even though the facts favor the Big 12 as the stronger conference. TCU destroyed Minnesota earlier this year. The Buckeyes lost to a Virginia Tech team who might not make a bowl game. The Big Ten lost all three of its games against Big 12 opponents, including a loss to last place Iowa State. It’s clear the Big 12 is better than the Big Ten, but a conference championship may be the deal-breaker.
Of course, if Florida State, Oregon or Ohio State loses their conference championship and a Big 12 team slips into the playoffs, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby will look like a genius. We’ll have all the answers 10 days from now.