The Big 12 has gone all-in this season in quest of a participant in the College Football Playoff. That includes resurrection of a Big 12 football championship game that will be a guaranteed rematch of a regular-season contest.
Slated to be played Dec. 1 or Dec. 2 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, the 2017 title game will pit the top two finishers in the league standings and projects to generate $3 million per school in added revenues. Thus far, six different Big 12 teams have earned at least one Top 25 national projection from a preseason college football magazine: TCU, Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and West Virginia.
That suggests a spirited race to identify the two participants in the league’s first title game since the 2010 season. But the championship game will not provide the impetus into the CFP playoff bracket that league administrators envision unless Big 12 teams improve on last year’s dismal showing in high-profile nonconference games.
Oklahoma, the defending Big 12 champion, finished undefeated in league play last season but missed out on a playoff berth because of September losses to Houston and Ohio State. The Sooners were far from alone in last year’s September struggles and the 2017 slate offers several intersectional contests that can make or break the Big 12’s national image before the first conference games are played on Sept. 23.
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Here is a look at 10 reputation-shaping games for Big 12 football during the 2017 season. Logic says the Big 12 needs to win at least six, and perhaps seven, of these contests to help the league champion sway some borderline votes with members of the CFP selection committee in December:
Tulsa at Oklahoma State (Sept. 2): Last year’s home loss in September to Central Michigan haunted the Cowboys throughout a 10-3 season.
Maryland at Texas (Sept. 2): Only one participant in Texas coach Tom Herman’s debut in Austin earned a bowl bid last season. That team, Maryland, returns 13 starters.
West Virginia vs. Virginia Tech (Sept. 3): A neutral-site opener in Landover, Md. will tell a lot about the Mountaineers’ potential under new quarterback Will Grier, a transfer from Florida.
TCU at Arkansas (Sept. 9): The Horned Frogs’ toughest nonconference matchup involves a road trip into SEC country against a 2016 bowl team.
Oklahoma at Ohio State (Sept. 9): The Sooners lost this contest at home by 21 points last season. They cannot afford to repeat that outcome under new coach Lincoln Riley.
Texas at Southern California (Sept. 16): The Longhorns’ first road game under Herman involves a showdown with last year’s Rose Bowl champion.
Oklahoma State at Pittsburgh (Sept. 16): The Cowboys face most of the Big 12’s top teams in Stillwater, which makes this one of the toughest road trips of the season.
Kansas State at Vanderbilt (Sept. 16): A road win in an SEC venue always looks good, even if Vandy does not make the short list of projected SEC title contenders.
SMU at TCU (Sept. 16): SMU returns nine offensive starters from last year’s 5-7 team and could be bowl-bound this season.
Arizona State at Texas Tech (Sept. 16): The Red Raiders seek payback against a team that put 68 points on them in last year’s loss.