One Power 5 conference champion had to be left out of the four team playoff.
It wasn’t just that Baylor and TCU missed out, it’s that the Big 12 was right there in the mix for a top four spot all season long, and then, with the very last ranking, there was a rude awakening despite doing just about everything right.
Was it because it was Baylor or TCU and not Oklahoma or Texas?
Was it because there wasn’t a conference championship?
Or, again, was it just because there were five conference champions and just four chairs left when the music stopped?
Was there a playoff committee bias against the Big 12?
No, no, partially, and with the national title game in Arlington, and considering the committee met each week in the Gaylord Texan hotel in Grapevine – the most Big 12ey place to hold a meeting and within spitting distance of the Big 12 offices – absolutely, 100% no.
Along with later on breaking down what some of the league’s top teams have to do to get into the playoff, what does the Big 12 as a whole have to do? What’s the Path to the Playoff?
Step One: Don’t worry about the whole conference championship thing
The initial knee-jerk reaction after the Big 12 snubbing at the end of last season was that the conference needed to expand. It needed two more teams and needed to come up with a conference title game just like the other Power 5 leagues had as a showcase.
It wouldn’t have mattered.
A one-loss SEC champion – Alabama – was going to be in no matter what. An unbeaten, defending national champ and ACC winner Florida State was going to be in no matter what, and so was a one-loss Pac-12 champion – Oregon – after throttling Arizona. With the way Ohio State destroyed Wisconsin, the choice was relatively clear.
However, if Georgia Tech had upset Florida State – and it was close to doing just that – or if Wisconsin had beaten Ohio State, or if Arizona had beaten Oregon, Baylor would’ve been in. Had there been at least two upsets in the conference championships, Baylor and TCU might have both been in.
In other words, the lack of a Big 12 title game didn’t matter.
It was a bad, bad break, but there’s a different way to look at this – not having a conference championship game is actually a positive for the Big 12.
With a true champion – every Big 12 team plays every other Big 12 team – there’s no chance for a fluky conference title game upset like there is in the other Power 5 leagues. If the Big 12 champion is unbeaten or goes 11-1, that’s it. There’s no chance of flubbing away a title to a 9-3 squad.
Step Two: Be better at playing college football
Had Missouri beaten Alabama to win the SEC championship, even with home losses to Indiana and Georgia on the books, there still would’ve been a great chance it would’ve gotten into the playoff at 12-2 as the champ of the perceived best conference in college football – forgetting how the bowls panned out, you couldn’t have a playoff last year without the SEC champion in it. Considering how good the league was, the Pac-12 might have been in the same boat had Arizona beaten Oregon a second time.
The same couldn’t be said for the Big 12.
Texas was rebuilding under Charlie Strong. Oklahoma State was in reload mode. Oklahoma was faltering over the second half of the season, as was West Virginia. Kansas State was fine, but its resume wasn’t great considering the home loss to a good – but not elite – Auburn team, and Texas Tech, Kansas and Iowa State were awful. Considering Baylor played absolutely no one in non-conference action, and TCU beat Minnesota, but no one else of note outside of the Big 12, the league just didn’t distinguish itself.
It doesn’t have to be a top-to-bottom league, but if the five best teams are stronger and there’s a sense that things have improved, it’ll be easier for the conference champ to get some love.
Step Three: Hope for one team to step up and dominate
It doesn’t matter which team it is, if a Big 12 champion ends up 12-0, it’s going to be in the second College Football Playoff. If a Big 12 champion is 11-1 and crushes and kills everything in its path other than just one misstep, there’s a great chance it’ll get in, but that’s what happened to TCU last year and, in the end, it was rudely removed from what seemed like a safe spot in the CFP top three. All it takes is one team to get the nod – one Big 12 star has to turn into a star that demands a shot at the national title.
Step Four: Be impressive early
Create a buzz, and don’t gack away dangerous games against teams like Georgia Southern – looking at you, West Virginia – or Northern Iowa – get ready, Iowa State.
Being awful in the first month of the season ultimately didn’t matter for the Big Ten last year, but the Big 12 might not get the same break.
Texas goes to Notre Dame to open the season. TCU plays at Minnesota and Oklahoma has to travel to Tennessee. Winning two of those three games would be a start, and then coming up with wins like Iowa State over Iowa, Texas over Cal, Texas Tech over Arkansas and/or West Virginia over Maryland would do wonders.
Step Five: If TCU or Baylor rocks, fine
Now there’s a storyline. TCU was phenomenal last year, and it has enough talent and experience returning to be just as good or better. Baylor was terrific in the regular season and should be loaded again. No, the CFP committee isn’t going to care about giving either Big 12 school an unwarranted break, but after last season, it’ll be only natural if a tie-breaker went to the league that’s going to go gonzo if – assuming there’s a worthy champion – it misses the playoff for the second straight year. However …
Step Six: The big name teams have to be big again
There is no bias on the CFP committee, but it’s a good debate. If it was, say, Purdue, that had the exact same regular season and conference title game that Ohio State came up with, and Oklahoma and Texas instead of Baylor and TCU in the discussion, what would’ve happened? It’s all about the numbers and the side-by-side comparisons, but it would’ve been an easy PR move to take a deserving Longhorn team than a great Boilermaker one. As long as OU and Texas a s strong, the perception will be that the Big 12 is, too.
Step Seven: The champ can’t have more than one loss, and there has to be an upset in one of the other Power 5 conference championship games
Undefeated gets the Big 12 champion in, and 11-1 probably gets the job finished no matter what. However, getting an upset in one of the other Power 5 conference title games will be critical – there needs to be a team that rises up from the chaos.
Is It Going To Happen?: Yup. There probably won’t be an unbeaten Big 12 team – the conference is more balanced and has a few stronger teams – but there should be an 11-1 champion. This year, the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC won’t all have champions with one loss or fewer. The Big 12 will get its shot.