With a pair of pesky private schools from Texas relegated to afterthought status in the College Football Playoff race, at least for the time being, the Big 12 finally may be gaining traction toward its first postseason berth.
But that’s only a maybe. It’s clearly not a definite.
Neither No. 6 Oklahoma State (10-0) nor No. 7 Oklahoma (9-1) cracked the coveted top four spots in Tuesday’s updated rankings, meaning Big 12 teams remain 0-for-the-season in efforts to land a spot inside the projected playoff window.
But both schools gained ground after recent triumphs over No. 18 TCU (OSU, 49-29) and No. 10 Baylor (OU, 44-34). Those losses have forced the Horned Frogs (9-1) and Bears (8-1) into pursuit mode with little time to make up ground before the rankings are final and the playoff field is set Dec. 6.
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Those injuries resulted in the way they played their games. TCU, in our eyes, has had one significant test, and they lost to Oklahoma State.
CFP chairman Jeff Long on impact of Frogs’ injuries on the team’s ranking
OSU improved by two spots to capture the Cowboys’ highest-ever ranking from members of the CFP selection committee. But the Cowboys remain behind three fellow undefeated teams and two one-loss teams — No. 2 Alabama (9-1) and No. 4 Notre Dame (9-1).
Oklahoma used last week’s victory over Baylor that broke the Bears’ 20-game home winning streak as a five-spot springboard. The Sooners find themselves in pursuit of the same teams as OSU, plus their in-state rival.
Although both teams climbed Tuesday — and would figure to continue climbing with additional high-profile victories — it is clear that neither Oklahoma school is in control of its destiny after the selection committee made zero changes in its top five teams from last week’s rankings.
In fact, CFP selection committee chairman Jeff Long dropped a couple of ominous observations that should send a fresh set of shivers up the spines of Big 12 football fans. Long said the top four teams in the rankings “remain strong” in their respective spots.
He identified No. 5 Iowa (10-0) as “better” than either of the Big 12 pursuers.
“I think [Iowa is] better,” Long said. “They’re balanced on offense and defense. They’re a team that’s strong on both sides of the ball.
“They’re not a flashy team, but they’re consistent on both sides of the ball.”
Obviously, the rankings are fluid. Both OU and OSU could help themselves in a big way Saturday. Oklahoma meets TCU in Norman (7 p.m., WFAA/Ch. 8), and Oklahoma State faces Baylor in Stillwater (6:30 p.m., KDFW/Ch. 4).
A sweep by the schools from north of the Red River should elevate both teams in next week’s rankings. It also could set up a potential winner-makes-the-playoff matchup on Nov. 28, when Oklahoma plays at OSU.
If the Big 12 is to going to capture a playoff spot after being omitted from last year’s four-team bracket, that would be the most likely scenario. Having OSU run the table sounds like the most workable option because Long made it clear that a crunch-time comparison between 11-1 teams from OU and Notre Dame probably would not end well for the Sooners.
Oklahoma fell to Texas 24-17 while Notre Dame routed the Longhorns 38-3. Asked about the importance of such a comparison of common opponents as a potential tiebreaker, Long said: “Absolutely. That’s something we naturally look at. It’s part of the protocol as well.”
A victorious Saturday by TCU, Baylor or both would alter the Big 12 playoff picture considerably. If both private schools win, it would set off celebrations in Fort Worth and Waco. But it probably would sound the death knell for the Big 12’s playoff hopes for a second consecutive season.
Baylor dropped four spots after last week’s loss to OU. TCU fell three spots following a 23-17 victory over winless Kansas.
3 Big 12 teams in CFP’s top 10: No. 6 Oklahoma State, No. 7 Oklahoma, No. 10 Baylor
Asked how much TCU’s ongoing injuries to quarterback Trevone Boykin and receiver Josh Doctson have impacted the Frogs’ rankings, Long said: “Those injuries resulted in the way they played their games. TCU, in our eyes, has had one significant test, and they lost to Oklahoma State.”
He also referenced the close call with Kansas as a result working against the Frogs in efforts to rejoin the playoff mix. Baylor, from all indications, sounds like a better rebound candidate in the eyes of committee members.
Time will tell. Regardless of what happens Saturday, it is clear Big 12 teams still need losses by frontrunners ahead of them in Tuesday’s rankings to place a playoff team in the 2015 title mix.
Those could happen, based on remaining schedules. But the primary question remains: will the right team(s) lose to help Big 12 playoff hopes?
Even with a fresh pair of frontrunners leading the league’s playoff charge Tuesday, that question remains as relevant this week as it did when committee members were focusing their efforts on the postseason merits of Baylor and TCU.