Another Tuesday night, another loss for Big 12 football teams in efforts to curry favor with members of the College Football Playoff selection committee.
TCU, understandably, backtracked seven spots in Tuesday’s updated rankings after a 49-29 loss to Oklahoma State and now stands at No. 15, the lowest-ranked of four league schools still harboring playoff hopes.
But the big news Tuesday was the expanded glass ceiling placed atop the Big 12’s two undefeated playoff hopefuls, No. 6 Baylor (8-0) and No. 8 Oklahoma State (9-0).
Baylor, the league’s top-ranked CFP contender, remains behind a pair of one-loss teams with huge national followings for a second consecutive week, No. 2 Alabama (8-1) and No. 4 Notre Dame (8-1). Even more alarming: the Bears were jumped Tuesday by No. 5 Iowa (9-0), an overrated team leading the Big Ten’s weak division and playing the type of nonconference opponents (Illinois State, North Texas, Iowa State) that would cause committee members to frown if the Hawkeyes had the word “Baylor” stenciled across the front of their uniforms.
Another reason for concern in Big 12 precincts: Oklahoma State’s victory over then-No. 8 TCU only allowed the Cowboys to grab the same spot TCU vacated. OSU, despite its undefeated record, can count three once-beaten teams ahead of it in the playoff chase, including No. 7 Stanford (8-1).
Baylor was jumped Tuesday by No. 5 Iowa (9-0), an overrated team leading the Big Ten’s weak division and playing the type of nonconference opponents (Illinois State, North Texas, Iowa State) that would cause committee members to frown if the Hawkeyes had the word “Baylor” stenciled across the front of their uniforms.
Yes, it’s early in the process. Yes, the back-loaded Big 12 schedule still offers lots of high-profile showdowns on the docket, starting with Saturday’s matchup in Waco between Baylor and No. 12 Oklahoma (8-1).
But it should alarm Big 12 football fans when Jeff Long, the CFP selection committee chairman, proclaims there was “strong agreement on the top four teams” among committee members when the four schools in the projected playoff mix include three of college football’s biggest brands: Alabama, Notre Dame and No. 3 Ohio State (9-0), the defending national champion.
Never forget that this four-team playoff is a massive money-maker for E$PN, the CFP’s broadcast partner. And those three schools would bring lots of fans to the games and lots of revenue-producing TV ratings to the table, along with No. 1 Clemson (9-0), if Tuesday’s pecking order does not change before the rankings are finalized Dec. 6.
For a second consecutive week, Long played the patience card when discussing the playoff chances of Big 12 teams, noting that most of the league’s strength-of-schedule factors will surface “at the end of the season.”
While that is true, it’s equally true that committee members applied the stop sign to undefeated Oklahoma State at No. 8 despite last week’s 20-point victory over an undefeated, top-10 team. The best win this season for No. 5 Iowa? A 40-10 triumph over No. 18 Northwestern (7-2) in mid-October.
Such committee placement does not bode well for the Big 12. Nor does the fact that Notre Dame, college football’s 500-pound gorilla when it comes to TV ratings, already sits within the projected playoff window.
“I would not want to be behind Notre Dame with four weeks to go if they keep winning,” ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit said during Tuesday night’s telecast. “If Notre Dame wins out, they’re not going to be left out of the top four.”
I’ve got to agree with Herbie on that one. But winning out will be a chore for all teams near the top of the rankings. That is why Baylor coach Art Briles downplayed concerns about the Bears’ No. 6 spot.
We’re going to have a chance to make some noise. But we’re going to have to work for that noise, too.
Baylor coach Art Briles on his team’s No. 6 CFP ranking
“It’s about what we figured. It’s still early in the process,” Briles said during Tuesday’s telecast. “We understand that our schedule’s really back-loaded. So we’re going to have a chance to make some noise. But we’re going to have to work for that noise, too.”
CFP questions about Baylor, at this point, are legitimate. The Bears have yet to defeat a team that currently has a winning record. The Bears have taken down eight opponents with a combined mark of 24-47 (.338 winning percentage), including Texas Tech (5-5) and West Virginia (4-4).
0 Teams currently with a winning record that Baylor (8-0) has defeated this season
“We think they’re a good team. That’s why they held their place,” Long said, referring to Baylor’s stay at No. 6 for a second week. “But it’s still hard to move them up until we see them play some teams with strength.”
Those opportunities are imminent. Baylor’s next three games are against Oklahoma (8-1), Oklahoma State (9-0) and TCU (8-1), all within a 13-day window. Briles plans to embrace the challenge.
“These next three or four weeks will determine our fate. The great thing about it is, we’re in control of our fate,” Briles said. “Fortunately, we’re still standing there.”
That no longer is the case for TCU, which will need to finish with a flurry in its final three games and hope for help from other schools to get back in playoff contention.
Problem is, even the undefeated teams in the Big 12 playoff mix may need help from outsiders to crack the four-team bracket. That should not be the case. But that was the message sent Tuesday in the latest set of CFP rankings, complete with a fresh glass ceiling for Big 12 hopefuls.
3. Ohio State
4. Notre Dame
8. Oklahoma State
13. Michigan State
16. Florida State
17. Mississippi State
23. North Carolina