Once again, a balanced collection of Big 12 title contenders has prevented any football team from posting an undefeated record in conference play this season.
That has been the case every year since league administrators implemented a nine-game, round-robin schedule to decide the champion of their 10-member league for the 2011 season.
Although the nine-game slate remains the most equitable, logical way to crown the winner of a 10-team league, the fact that no Big 12 school has run the table against league peers in 2015 will create another round of last-minute hoping and hand-wringing by fans of whichever school is best-positioned to land a spot in the College Football Playoff when it is finalized Dec. 6.
We’ll know by Saturday if the Big 12’s best playoff candidate turns out to be No. 3 Oklahoma (10-1), No. 7 Baylor (9-1) or No. 11 Oklahoma State (10-1). All three remain mathematically alive in the Big 12 title race.
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But as we’ve all seen, a one-loss champion from the Big 12 has yet to be viewed in the same favorable light on Selection Saturday as a one-loss champion from the SEC, Big Ten or Pac-12 by committee members. Nothing that has transpired this season suggests that will change by Dec. 6. So nothing can be certain on the playoff front this week, even if the Big 12 race is decided Saturday night in Stillwater, Okla.
That possibility exists because of a fresh wrinkle in the 2015 football race. Unlike last season, Big 12 officials will match their marketing slogan and present “one true champion” for CFP selection committee members to consider if two schools post identical 11-1 overall records with identical 8-1 records in league play (like TCU and Baylor in 2014).
Because of a new tiebreaker approved at the spring meetings, there are no more co-champions in league football races. Instead, the head-to-head winner between teams tied at the top of the league standings will be the lone school to receive a trophy and earn the designation of “league champion,” a key component in CFP deliberations.
How does that work, on a team-by-team basis, in this year’s title race? Simple:
Oklahoma becomes the league champion if it wins Saturday’s game against Oklahoma State. No other results could trump that reality.
Baylor wins the league title if it takes down No. 19 TCU (Friday) and Texas (Dec. 5), coupled with an OSU victory over the Sooners.
Oklahoma State wins the title with a Saturday victory over OU coupled with a Baylor loss to TCU or Texas.
That covers the title contenders. All of them will be bowl-bound this postseason, along with TCU (9-2), Texas Tech (6-5) and West Virginia (6-4). That leaves the Big 12 with six teams to cover seven guaranteed bowl slots. If the Big 12 champ gets a playoff berth, the league could send as many as eight teams to the postseason.
There’s two games left and they know how important these two games are.
Texas coach Charlie Strong on his team’s efforts to become bowl-eligible
One problem: The only other teams with mathematical chances to reach the six-win plateau required to accept a bowl berth are Kansas State (4-6) and Texas (4-6). With a road game against winless Kansas (0-11) and a home game against West Virginia, the Wildcats might get there.
Texas, on the other hand, closes with a game Thursday in Austin against Tech (6:30 p.m., FS1), followed by a Dec. 5 game at Baylor. It’s hard to project the Longhorns to finish better than 5-7.
With that record, Texas would not be eligible to receive a bowl berth in a typical season. But this season is far from typical, with 80 available postseason berths in an NCAA-record 40 bowls, plus the CFP national championship game.
Thus far, 71 of the nation’s 127 FBS teams have become bowl-eligible. That still leaves room for nine more bowl teams. Candidates to fill those nine vacancies head into this week’s games with five or fewer victories.
6 Big 12 teams that already are bowl-eligible this season.
Officials of the NCAA Football Oversight Committee have held meetings this week, and will continue discussions next week, about criterion that would be used in deciding which nonqualifying teams would be first in line for postseason waivers to accept bowl berths with 5-7 records. At present, NCAA rules are unclear on that topic.
One thing is clear. Texas coach Charlie Strong desperately wants his team to make it to a bowl game because it would provide 15 more practices this season for returnees to the 2016 roster.
“There’s two games left and they know how important these two games are,” Strong said. “There’s no reason for them not to understand that.”
Just realize that, if the Longhorns fail to hit the six-win plateau, a back door to a bowl berth may be open to them and other 5-7 teams this season.
Texas Tech 42, Texas 38 (6:30 p.m. Thursday, FS1): Red Raiders have too much offensive firepower for the Longhorns to match, barring a barrage of Tech turnovers.
No. 7 Baylor 51, No. 19 TCU 48 (6:30 p.m. Friday, ESPN): Key injuries to both teams cloud this outcome. A guess says the Bears, who have won the last two meetings by three-point margins, keep that trend intact.
No. 3 Oklahoma 38, No. 11 Oklahoma State 28 (7 p.m. Saturday, WFAA/Ch. 8): Sooners finish their post-Texas surge from Big 12 after-thoughts to Big 12 champs with a legitimate CFP playoff opportunity.
West Virginia 44, Iowa State 23 (11 a.m. Saturday, FS1): ISU coach Paul Rhoads bows out with a road loss to the bowl-bound Mountaineers.
Kansas State 38, Kansas 21 (3 p.m. Saturday, FS1): Wildcats make sure their in-state rivals complete a winless season by prevailing in Lawrence.
Last week: 2-2