While chatter about Big 12 expansion gurgles beneath the surface as we await the league’s spring meetings in Irving (May 31-June 3), a 12-step program is available to conference football teams in September that would support the idea that the 10-member league is just fine the way it is.
By winning these 12 September games, league teams could send an unequivocal message to College Football Playoff selection committee members that the Big 12’s best team deserves its spot in the postseason playoff bracket without the "13th data point" provided by playing a conference championship game in football.
At this juncture, expansion talk is conjoined with enhancing the league’s annual playoff potential, so this season offers a referendum on the topic. The sticking point is that every team in the league must contribute to the process, thereby making it more meaningful for the eventual league champion to take down its conference peers.
In order of highest-profile encounters, the challenge is for Big 12 teams to win these statement games in September against intersectional opponents. Or at least the lion’s share of them:
Ohio State at Oklahoma, Sept. 17: The 2014 national champs, who have a 26-2 record during the playoff era, meet the defending Big 12 champs in Norman, Okla. A Sooners’ win would alter a lot of national perceptions about the Big 12.
Notre Dame at Texas, Sept. 4: The teams meet on Sunday night of Labor Day weekend, with the Longhorns seeking to atone for last year’s 38-3 loss in South Bend, Ind. With no other game scheduled that day, the TV audience and the national impact of the result will be huge.
Oklahoma at Houston, Sept. 3: The Sooners will be pushed by the Cougars, who return lots of key starters from a 13-1 team and harbor CFP playoff hopes of their own.
Kansas State at Stanford, Sept. 2: This will be the first Big 12 game played in 2016. If the Wildcats could take down last year’s Rose Bowl champs, that would turn a lot of heads.
Arkansas at TCU, Sept. 10: The Horned Frogs should be in the Big 12 title chase. Taking down an SEC opponent would enhance discussions about TCU’s "body of work" by CFP committee members in November.
Pittsburgh at Oklahoma State, Sept. 17: The Cowboys should be in the Big 12 title chase. This qualifies as their highest-profile nonconference test.
Baylor at Rice, Sept. 17: The Bears should be in the Big 12 title chase. This qualifies as their most significant nonconference test.
Texas Tech at Arizona State, Sept. 10: The Red Raiders might be in the Big 12 title chase if their defense improves. Here is the acid test.
Texas at California, Sept. 17: Before the Longhorns can contend for a Big 12 title, they must start winning the "50/50" games. This one qualifies and Cal won last year’s meeting, 45-44.
Missouri at West Virginia, Sept. 3: Any win over an SEC opponent should resonate with the CFP selection committee.
Iowa State at Iowa, Sept. 10: An upset of last year’s Rose Bowl representative from the Big Ten would be significant for the Cyclones, as well as their fellow league members.
Kansas at Memphis, Sept. 17: The Jayhawks must show they’ve improved on last year’s 0-12 nightmare. Here’s a great place to start.