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Until Expansion, Future Big 12 Likely to Remain on Outside, Looking in on CFB Playoff

NCAA Football: Oklahoma State at Iowa State

Another year, another failure by the Big 12 to win a national championship in football.

Of course, the last time the Big 12 won a national title was unforgettable. The 2006 Rose Bowl. Texas beat USC, 41-38. Vince Young carried the Longhorns to a third national championship. It remains one of college football’s legendary games.

Colt McCoy took the Longhorns there four years later. I’ve often wondered what might have been had McCoy not gotten hurt against Alabama. A dynasty started that night, just not one that involved the Big 12.

But you can’t live off the past, especially since the past is getting ready to ride off into the sunset.


No current Big 12 team besides Oklahoma or Texas has competed for a national championship in the Bowl Championship Series or College Football Playoff era, dating back to the 1998 season. In fact, in the College Football Playoff era, dating back to the 2014 season, the Sooners are the only Big 12 team to even make the playoff.

Sure, other teams have flirted with it, most notably Baylor, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and TCU. But no other current Big 12 team has gotten there.

OU and Texas Heading Out

At some point, but no later than the 2025-26 season, the Sooners and Longhorns will migrate to the Southeastern Conference. While I believe the Big 12 is well positioned to compete, the league’s remaining, and future members, will likely have to wait until College Football Playoff expansion comes for one of them to reach the playoff.

That stinks. But it’s probably also the truth.

Playoff expansion isn’t coming as quickly as most fans hoped, and you can lay some blame at the feet of Oklahoma and Texas for that. Their move to the SEC in July took everyone aback. Now, the CFP’s Management Council can’t agree on how to expand, even though both plans are similar. But, because some of the Power 5 conferences — most notably the Pac-12, which is probably worse off than the Big 12 when it comes to the Playoff — want a guaranteed bid, we have an impasse.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby sounded that note on Monday.


The Big 12 is stuck due to other factors it can’t control.

The SEC is, in essence, a two-bid playoff league right now. Alabama is Alabama. But Georgia is playing in a weak division, where Florida is its only real competition, and the Gators are starting over. Since the Tide and Gators only play each other once a decade in the regular season, all the pair have to do is what they did this season — have one go undefeated, the other absorb a loss, and have the team that absorbed the loss beat the other in the SEC title game. The committee isn’t sending both home.

The Big Ten will almost always send someone, usually the winner of the East Division. The ACC will almost always send someone — don’t count on Clemson being down for long. And the Pac-12? Well, maybe Lincoln Riley can spin water into wine at USC. But can he do it quickly enough to get into the Playoff before expansion?

Best Best Moving Forward

Yes, the Big 12 ‘looks’ more wide open than it has in recent years. The coaching turnover at Oklahoma will hurt the Sooners. The Longhorns are still building up under Steve Sarkisian. It’s certainly possible for Baylor to repeat in 2022. Or for Oklahoma State to win the league in 2022. Or for a dark horse team like Kansas State or Iowa State to win it in 2022.

But can they win the league in the way the CFP committee seems to demand?

Remember in 2014 when TCU and Baylor had one loss each and the committee passed them over for Ohio State? This season the Cowboys COULD have made it, had they beaten Baylor. But WOULD they, over a one-loss Michigan, which dominated Ohio State and the Big Ten title game? Or over Cincinnati, which went undefeated?

I have my doubts.


One loss isn’t the death of a team’s playoff hopes, but the committee seems to demand perfection from any program that isn’t one of the game’s blue bloods, and that’s the biggest issue the Big 12 has at the moment. As good as the league is, no one is good enough to avoid being picked off once, perhaps twice, in Big 12 play.

Since 1998, just one team — LSU — has made the national title game or the playoff with two losses.

So the Big 12 watches once again, on the outside looking in.

And it probably will be for a little while longer.

You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.

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