The countdown to chaos begins Monday when members of the College Football Playoff selection committee convene in Grapevine to begin shaping Tuesday’s initial round of weekly rankings.
The list of candidates for the first four-team set of playoff insiders includes 11 undefeated schools in Sunday’s updated Associated Press poll, with three of them from the Big 12: No. 2 Baylor (7-0), No. 5 TCU (8-0) and No. 12 Oklahoma State (8-0). An additional six teams with one loss are ranked among the top 14 by AP voters and deserve a long look from the 12-member committee.
That means you can count on only four happy fan bases, along with more than a dozen that will feel slighted, when Tuesday’s first set of rankings are revealed. The knee-jerk guess at this point would be to project the top four teams from the AP poll into the top four spots in Tuesday’s CFP rankings: Ohio State, Baylor, Clemson and LSU.
But when it comes to the CFP, everyone should have learned last season that poll positions do not always translate to committee love during these deliberations. Multiple four-team combinations are possible at the top of Tuesday’s rankings.
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The only certainty in the CFP race, at this juncture, applies to the playoff hopefuls from the Big 12. At this juncture, the league team with the best chance to crack the four-team playoff mix on Dec. 6 will be the one that performs best in Stillwater, Okla., this month.
That much was set in stone when Oklahoma State knocked off Texas Tech 70-53 in Lubbock to give the Cowboys the smoothest remaining path of any contender to win the Big 12 title. OSU plays its final road game Nov. 14 at Iowa State. But the result of that contest would be irrelevant under league tiebreakers if the Cowboys sweep their home games this month against TCU (Saturday), Baylor (Nov. 21) and No. 14 Oklahoma (Nov. 28).
A sweep of fellow contenders in Stillwater would give OSU (8-0, 5-0 Big 12) the head-to-head advantage over TCU (8-0, 5-0), Baylor (7-0, 4-0) and Oklahoma (7-1, 4-1) in any tie atop the Big 12 standings that might occur at end of the season regardless of other results posted in November.
A victory in Boone Pickens Stadium by a visiting team, however, changes things dramatically. TCU gets the first shot to undermine the Cowboys’ tailor-made closing stretch of the 2015 schedule in Saturday’s matchup (2:30 p.m., KDFW/Ch. 4).
The Horned Frogs will be facing an energized bunch of Cowboys whose confidence level will be soaring after rallying from three different 17-point deficits to post a 17-point victory in Lubbock. OSU is 8-0 for the third time in school history and the first time since 2011 when the Cowboys won their lone Big 12 title.
“I was proud of our team, proud of them for rallying in the second half,” said OSU coach Mike Gundy, who leaned heavily on backup quarterback J.W. Walsh, a Denton Guyer graduate, to help the Cowboys outscore the Red Raiders 42-15 in the final 30 minutes. “J.W. is like the Energizer bunny. He’s so excited. He wants to do it, and he wants to run through the wall.”
We think that it’s almost like preparing for two different offenses ... He helps us run the football because you have to defend him.
Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy on the run-game package for backup QB J.W. Walsh
Walsh’s second-second half surge included a 1-yard touchdown run to put the Cowboys up for good 49-45 as well as a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown strikes covering 73 and 75 yards to protect the lead. Walsh, a senior, has served as a change-of-pace quarterback for the Cowboys since sophomore Mason Rudolph earned the starting job last November.
TCU can expect to face both quarterbacks Saturday as OSU seeks to build on its season-high 662 yards against Tech. Gundy identified the contributions of Walsh, a former starter, as a wrinkle the Cowboys need to boost their ground game.
“We think that it’s almost like preparing for two different offenses,” Gundy said of his quarterback tandem. “We have plans for Walsh. He helps us run the football because you have to defend him. We have a segment of practice each day where J.W. has a plan. For us not to use it wouldn’t be smart. We need some help as we move along to try to get better in rushing the football.”
662 Yards gained by Oklahoma State, a season high, in Saturday’s 70-53 victory over Texas Tech
Realistically, the Cowboys probably need some breaks to fall their way in high-profile November games to defeat all three fellow Big 12 contenders headed to Stillwater. On paper, OSU does not appear as daunting as the other teams in the title mix. But in college football, playing in front of a loud home crowd can trump a lot of apparent disadvantages on paper.
It remains unclear if OSU can complete its Big 12 title quest. But it’s obvious the Big 12 champion will have to stand tall in Stillwater to collect this year’s trophy. Regardless of whatever uniform it wears on game day.
Key games this week
No. 2 Baylor at Kansas State: The Bears’ playoff hopes begin riding Thursday night on freshman quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
No. 5 TCU at No. 12 Oklahoma State: Undefeated playoff contenders cross paths Saturday in Stillwater, Okla.
No. 4 LSU at No. 7 Alabama: Frontrunners in the SEC West collide Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala.