An off-season filled with might-have-beens finally gives way to an opportunity for the Big 12’s best teams to prove they are College Football Playoff-worthy this season.
With No. 2 TCU and No. 4 Baylor leading the charge, all league teams are in action this week. What follows is a peek into the crystal football to discover 12 things to expect before we learn what role, if any, the Big 12 will play in deciding this year’s CFP national champion:
No perfect records. Despite its high-profile placement on the league schedule (Nov. 27), do not hold your breath waiting for an undefeated team to take the field for the TCU-Baylor showdown in Fort Worth. The balanced Big 12 has not produced a champion with an undefeated record in league play since it began using its nine-game, round-robin schedule in 2011. With multiple challenging road trips for both TCU (Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State) and Baylor (Oklahoma State, Kansas State) before their head-to-head meeting, do not expect that trend to change.
Belated playoff berth. Unlike last season, the political climate will carry the Big 12 champion into the CFP’s four-team playoff bracket with one loss. Humans still vote on the placement of those teams. And all 13 members of the selection committee understand the Big 12 champ is owed the benefit of the doubt in any 50/50 situation after last year’s omission as long as the champ can post an 11-1 record.
Big upset in Stillwater. Oklahoma State begins the season unranked. But the Cowboys have lots of young talent and home games in Stillwater, Okla., against No. 2 TCU (Nov. 7), No. 4 Baylor (Nov. 21) and No. 19 Oklahoma (Nov. 28). The Cowboys will win one of those games, ruining someone’s shot at a perfect season or Big 12 title.
CFP ramifications in Fort Worth. Even without undefeated records on the table, the Big 12 title should be a winner-take-all proposition when TCU and Baylor meet Nov. 27 in Amon G. Carter Stadium. To the victor will go the CFP playoff berth as long as that team can finish 11-1.
Four digits for Gray. In his final college season, Texas running back Johnathan Gray gets his first 1,000-yard rushing season as a Longhorn. The Aledo High School graduate, a five-star signee, finally seems back to full speed after Achilles surgery in November 2013.
Constant cloud over Baylor. It will be a rare week, and understandably so, when Baylor football discussions focus more on the product on the field and less on the investigation into the school’s handling of convicted rapist Sam Ukwuachu and his victim, a former Baylor women’s soccer player.
Difficult headlines for OU, too. Two players coming off one-year suspensions for mistreatment of women are on the Oklahoma depth chart, running back Joe Mixon (punched woman, broke four bones in her face) and linebacker Frank Shannon (served one-year suspension imposed by school after Title IX sexual misconduct investigation). The better they play, and they’re both extremely talented, the more attention will be focused on their second chances granted by school officials.
Notable newcomers. The race for Newcomer of the Year honors will include at least a couple of these names: Oklahoma State RB/KR Chris Carson, Texas LB Malik Jefferson, TCU LB Mike Freeze, Texas Tech DT Breiden Fehoko, Texas Tech LB Mike Mitchell, Texas DB John Bonney, Oklahoma’s Mixon and West Virginia RB Donte Thomas-Williams.
Most-hyped reunion. Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, who won Big 12 Offensive Freshman of the Year honors at Texas Tech in 2013, projects to be the Sooners’ starter when OU plays the Red Raiders in Norman, Okla., on Oct. 24. Mayfield, a walk-on at Tech, transferred after losing the starting job shortly before the Red Raiders’ appearance in the 2013 Holiday Bowl. He earned OU’s starting job in fall drills.
Defensive difference-makers. The two schools that combined in 2012 for the highest-scoring shootout in conference history (West Virginia 70, Baylor 63) will feature two of the league’s stingiest defenses. Really. Both units return nine starters, tops among Big 12 teams.
Boykin does the Big Apple. TCU quarterback Trevone Boykin, left out of last year’s invitees to the 2014 Heisman Trophy ceremony despite a stellar season, makes the cut for this year’s live presentation festivities. Whether he wins will have a lot to do with whether his team makes the playoff.
This year’s College Football Playoff team. What? You want me to ruin the regular season for you? Tune in Nov. 27 and find out who wins. As long as the winner is 11-1 or better, that team should be playoff-bound.