The College Football Playoff bracket will be finalized Sunday and, for a second time in three seasons, Big 12 teams should brace for disappointment.
The unique twist for 2016 is that, for the first time in three years, the league has earned this year’s imminent omission.
Regardless of the outcome in Saturday’s winner-take-all battle for the Big 12 title between No. 7 Oklahoma (9-2, 8-0 Big 12) and No. 11 Oklahoma State (9-2, 7-1), the team that collects the trophy will be hard-pressed to overcome its stinky September. That became clear Tuesday when OU and OSU landed at ninth and 10th in the updated CFP rankings.
Officially, the Big 12 playoff hopefuls fall behind eight other teams from Power 5 conferences in the CFP pecking order: top-ranked Alabama (12-0), Clemson (11-1), Ohio State (11-1), Michigan (10-2) and all four participants in conference championship games held by the Big Ten and Pac-12. The chance for movement is minimal but the predicament is self-inflicted.
Both members of the Bedlam brethren spit the bit with two September losses. No Big 12 pursuer other than No. 14 West Virginia (9-2. 6-2) stepped up to provide either Oklahoma school anything that qualifies as a “good win” on its résumé. In fact, OSU’s 35-24 loss to a Baylor team dragging a five-game losing streak and on a collision course with a 6-6 record actually hurts the Cowboys’ chances to make much progress with CFP decision-makers.
4 Big Ten teams in the top seven of the CFP rankings: No. 2 Ohio State, No. 5 Michigan, No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 7 Penn State.
It is telling that, during Tuesday’s news conference to address placement of teams heading into Sunday’s final bracket, CFP selection committee chairman Kirby Hocutt fielded 13 questions about four Big Ten teams positioned among the CFP’s top seven: Ohio State (No. 2), Michigan (No. 5), Wisconsin (No. 6) and Penn State (No. 7). There were no questions about either Big 12 title contender.
The closest thing to a local hook for college football fans in Dallas-Fort Worth occurred when Hocutt acknowledged CFP committee members have scheduled a Dec. 10 conference call, if needed, to address the placement of Navy (No. 19 in CFP rankings) in relation to Western Michigan (No. 17 in CFP rankings) to determine which school would wind up in the Cotton Bowl if both become conference champions this weekend.
Navy (9-2), which faces Temple (9-3) in Saturday’s American Athletic Conference championship game, closes its regular season Dec. 10 against Army (6-5) and that outcome could impact the placement of the Midshipmen in regard to bowl berths. Barring a climb in the CFP rankings, Navy will play Dec. 23 in Fort Worth at the Lockheed Martin Armed Forces Bowl.
You always want to have a chance at a national championship. That doesn’t work every year. Oklahoma football coach Bob Stoops
In regard to playoff berths, all indicators suggest the Big 12 is done. But protocol compels us to remind fans that hope springs eternal until the four-team bracket is announced. History has shown that deserving teams do not always become playoff teams (see: TCU and Baylor, circa 2014).
If we’ve learned nothing else in 2016, we should have learned not to close the door on unexpected outcomes. Already in this calendar year, we’ve seen the Cleveland Cavaliers win their first NBA title. We’ve watched the Chicago Cubs claim their first World Series in 108 years. We’ve elected Donald Trump to the nation’s top political office.
So if you’re still clinging to hope for a Big 12 playoff participant this season, here is the best path I can envision for the Bedlam winner: Root like crazy for Clemson (11-1) to get routed by No. 19 Virginia Tech (9-3) in the ACC championship game. Hope for Colorado (10-2) to upset Washington (11-1) in the Pac-12 title game.
And pray that Hocutt, the athletic director at Texas Tech when he is not serving as the public face of the CFP, plays the Big 12 card with vigor behind closed doors on Sunday morning.
The lone window of hope, as I see it, rests with both the ACC and Pac-12 champions emerging with at least two losses, same as the Big 12 champ. Combine that with an OU victory over OSU, allowing the Sooners to sweep all nine of their Big 12 opponents this season, and you might have a case to make for the Sooners as an undefeated league champion.
For OSU, the road is much bumpier because of the Baylor loss. But there’s wiggle room for negotiation if committee members reflect on the officiating error that cost the Cowboys a victory on the final play of their 30-27 loss to Central Michigan on Sept. 10.
Bottom line: Don’t hold your breath and reflect on these words, uttered earlier this week by Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops.
“You always want to have a chance at a national championship,” Stoops said. “That doesn’t work every year.”
For the Big 12, the 2017 season appears to be the next opportunity for things to work on college football’s playoff front.