The Big 12 is holding a conference championship game for the first time since 2010. The lack of a 13th data point helped keep the conference on the outside of the College Football Playoff in 2014 and hurt Oklahoma’s longshot chances last season. In a cruel bit of irony, the championship contest could be the final act in a nightmare scenario for the Big 12 in which it’s shutout yet again because of the game’s return.
On Saturday, TCU travels to Norman to play the Sooners. Each team is 8-1 overall and 5-1 in the conference. With no title game looming, the winner previously would have been in the driver’s seat for the crown and, likely, a solid look for the CFB playoff.
Oklahoma finishes at Kansas and home against West Virginia. TCU finishes at Texas Tech and home against Baylor down the stretch. Both are likely to win out. Sitting at 11-1 with a conference title isn’t a bad place to be, especially this year, especially for the Sooners, who have a non-conference win at Ohio State.
But even if Saturday’s winner finishes 11-1, they’ll have to win another game to capture the conference. It is highly likely that the Big 12 title game will be a repeat of Oklahoma-TCU. If the teams split this year’s games, neither is going to the playoff. Any non-rematch would pit the winner of Oklahoma or TCU this weekend against another two-loss conference team (Iowa State, Oklahoma State) as well. There’s probably more to lose in such a contest than there is to gain.
Every year, the selection committee must grapple with new criteria. In 2014, it was advantageous for Ohio State to get another chance to impress. Their drubbing of Wisconsin came at the expense of TCU and Baylor. In 2017, we appear to be approaching a much different scenario. Both Notre Dame and Miami have a real shot to finish with 12 total games. The Irish are independent. The Hurricanes’ had a game canceled due to that very thing.
If the Big 12 had continued its round-robin, one-true-champ procedure, it’s likely an 11-1 TCU or Oklahoma would be weighed and measured next to an 11-1 Notre Dame or Miami, perhaps favorably.
For a conference that’s struggled to field a team into college football’s final four, it would be a cruel twist of fate if they overcorrected itself out this year.