Unless you have spent this football season under a rock or mute commercials during telecasts, you should know the Big 12 bills itself as the Power 5 conference that produces “One True Champion.”
Yet the league could be headed to a five-team tie for its title that would be broken, under league bylaws, by either: 1) votes cast by members of the College Football Playoff selection committee or 2) blind draw.
Don’t laugh. It would not require any significant upsets for the Big 12 to be crowning five co-champions, all with 7-2 league records, on Dec. 6: TCU, Baylor, Oklahoma, Kansas State and West Virginia. The league is that balanced.
If that occurs, the “One True Champion” slogan would become an unintended punch line — and an incredible piece of marketing irony — for a league that has lots of deserving Top 25 teams but may not have a qualifier in the CFP’s four-team playoff bracket. We’ll explain the potential gridlock scenario later.
For now, understand the purpose behind the slogan. In college football’s inaugural playoff season, Big 12 officials wanted to spotlight the challenge of their round-robin schedule to CFP selection committee members who seed the four-team bracket.
Unlike in the other Power 5 leagues, which have two divisions, all 10 members of the Big 12 compete under the same roof and face one another during the regular season. Instead of a Dec. 6 championship game between division winners, as scheduled in other leagues, the Big 12 championship game could occur Saturday (TCU-West Virginia), Nov. 8 (Baylor-Oklahoma; TCU-Kansas State), Nov. 22 (Kansas State-West Virginia), Dec. 6 (Kansas State-Baylor) or some other day.
No one knows. But the schedule requires the top two teams to meet at some point.
The only hiccup to this format arises when the top two teams cannot separate themselves from the pack. That may be happening now, although fans from No. 9 Kansas State (6-1, 4-0 Big 12) would beg to differ because of the Wildcats’ undefeated record in league play.
But a closer look at KSU’s schedule shows remaining road games at No. 7 TCU (6-1, 3-1), No. 20 West Virginia (6-2, 4-1) and No. 13 Baylor (6-1, 3-1). The Wildcats easily could lose two of them.
If they lose the correct two, combined with other home-field triumphs by Big 12 frontrunners in the stretch drive, we’ve got ourselves a five-way tie between teams that will post 7-2 league records and 2-2 marks against one another in round-robin play.
How can that happen? With these round-robin results among the front-runners: Kansas State loses road games at TCU (Nov. 8) and Baylor (Dec. 6) but wins at West Virginia (Nov. 22); TCU loses Saturday at West Virginia; Baylor loses its Nov. 8 game at No. 18 Oklahoma. If those results unfold and the five front-runners do not lose to teams from the back half of the league standings, we’ve got our five-way tie.
In that scenario, the Big 12 should consider itself out of the CFP playoffs. But the placement of Big 12 teams in the final CFP rankings, released Dec. 7, will be monumental.
That placement will determine which team receives the spot reserved for the Big 12 champion in one of the New Year’s bowls outside the playoff bracket. In essence, CFP members will be voting for the Big 12 champion on Dec. 7 if the league race ends in a five-way tie. If no team cracks the CFP’s final Top 25 (unlikely), we go to a blind draw.
Because league officials voted in May to replace “BCS” references in their tiebreaker procedures with the phrase “CFP,” the same tiebreakers apply today that separated three co-champions from the 2010 Big 12 South Division. Oklahoma got the nod over Oklahoma State and Texas A&M before defeating Nebraska 23-20 in the final Big 12 championship game between division winners.
But there has been a tweak since the league’s highest-profile tiebreaker situation: the 2008 scenario that sent OU to the league title game ahead of Texas, based on BCS standings. The next spring, league officials adopted the so-called “Texas rule.”
It would send the highest-ranked Big 12 co-champion in the final CFP rankings to the highest-profile bowl “unless the two highest ranked tied teams are ranked within one spot of the other in the College Football Playoff poll. In this case, the head-to-head results of the two ranked tied teams shall determine the representative.”
Bottom line: No. 8 Baylor would trump No. 7 TCU, based on head-to-head results, if those are the two highest-placed teams in the final CFP rankings after a five-way tie for the league title. But No. 7 TCU would outlast No. 9 Baylor if the voting falls that way.
The message to all title contenders, at this point, is simple. Win out and avoid chaos. But if the right results unfold, the Big 12 could be in for the biggest dose of chaos anyone has seen in college football since the Southwest Conference crowned five co-champions in 1994.
V.J. Fehoko, Texas Tech, LB
With losses and injuries mounting, Texas Tech linebacker V.J. Fehoko considers it time for himself and other senior leaders to get the Red Raiders (3-5, 1-4 Big 12) pulling in the proper direction in efforts to become bowl-eligible. Tech meets Texas (3-5, 2-3) in a Saturday matchup in Lubbock (6:30 p.m., FS1) that will be critical to both schools’ bowl hopes.
“At this point, we’ve kind of dug ourselves into a pit and we’ve really got to dig ourselves out,” said Fehoko, a transfer from Utah who was on the field for most of Tech’s defensive snaps in last week’s 82-27 loss to TCU. “Winning out will be crucial for us to get into a bowl game. But I have confidence in everyone on this team. Our coaches are doing all they can. I think some of our players are doing the most, and so we’ve just got to continue that.”
Asked if his “some of our players” comment means he questions the effort of teammates, Fehoko said: “You know what, it’s hard … to keep tabs on everyone. But as far as I can see, a lot of guys are sacrificing. Unfortunately, we have injuries. When those kinds of things take place, you just hope that the guys that are next in line are ready.”
After a 2-0 start, Tech has lost five of its past six games. The Red Raiders have two remaining games against ranked opponents (No. 18 Oklahoma, No. 13 Baylor) in efforts to post a 6-6 mark and become bowl-eligible.
Fresh perspective: For the first time since switching to a pass-oriented spread offense in 2000, Texas Tech heads into November with the Big 12’s leader in rushing yards. Red Raiders running back DeAndre Washington (699 yards, 87.4 per game) has the most yards, but Baylor’s Shock Linwood (696 yards, 99.4 avg.) is the pacesetter in yards per game.
Talented tackler: Oklahoma State safety Jordan Sterns, a sophomore from Cibolo Steele High School, has emerged as one of the league’s top tacklers in his first season as a starter. Sterns (63 tackles, 7.9 per game) had a team-high 20 stops in last week’s 34-10 loss to West Virginia, becoming only the sixth Cowboy to hit the 20-tackle mark in a game since 1984.
Fabulous front-runners: No. 9 Kansas State (6-1, 4-0 Big 12) has won 44 consecutive games when leading at halftime, including last week’s 23-0 triumph over Texas. It marks the second-longest active streak in the nation. The Wildcats seek to extend that mark Saturday against Oklahoma State (5-3, 3-2) in Manhattan, Kan.
No. 20 West Virginia 42, No. 7 TCU 41 (2:30 p.m. Saturday, WFAA/Ch. 8): Horned Frogs will be pushed, perhaps to the breaking point, in one of the Big 12’s toughest road environments.
No. 9 Kansas State 38, Oklahoma State 16 (7 p.m. Saturday, WFAA/Ch. 8): Wildcats remain undefeated in league play heading into next week’s showdown in Fort Worth against TCU.
Texas 23, Texas Tech 17 (6:30 p.m. Saturday, FS1): Longhorns survive what projects as an elimination game in both teams’ efforts to become bowl-eligible.
No. 13 Baylor 52, Kansas 27 (3 p.m. Saturday, FS1): Bears claim a feel-good win, remain lurkers in CFP playoff mix.
No. 18 Oklahoma 38, Iowa State 21 (11 a.m. Saturday, FS1): Rested Sooners roll the Cyclones, jump-start their November push to rejoin the Big 12 title chase.
Last week: 3-0