With the return of the Big 12 Championship Game set for Saturday, the stage is set for a reasonably attractive regular season rematch and also for this:
The potential for the worst-case scenario for the league.
Let’s remember how we got here: Unhappy with missing out on the College Football Playoff in two of the past three seasons, the Big 12 brought back its title game this season in an attempt to create a so-called 13th data point.
That data point works well if the Big 12 title game – pitting Oklahoma against TCU this season – is a virtual CFP play-in game.
But it could prove to be a play-out game for Oklahoma if the Sooners lose to the Horned Frogs. The Sooners, who are No. 3 in this week’s playoff rankings, would almost certainly on the outside looking in if they lose Saturday.
And because TCU is sitting at No. 11 in the playoff rankings, even a victory over Oklahoma would be highly unlikely to springboard the Horned Frogs high enough to make the four-team field.
As a result, no Big 12 team would make the playoff again, and this time it would be because the league staged a conference championship.
If the Big 12 season were already wrapped up, Oklahoma would likely have clinched a playoff berth. Without a Big 12 title game, it’s possible Wisconsin, ranked fourth in the rankings, could leapfrog the Sooners with a big win over Ohio State on Saturday. But the furthest the Sooners would fall would be to fourth.
When bringing back the Big 12 title game, there was always going to be some risk involved. The 13th game could prove more of a burden than a boost for a Big 12 team already positioned well in the CFP rankings.
That’s exactly what has transpired.
“Oklahoma doesn’t need the extra game,” TCU coach Gary Patterson bluntly said before the rankings were released Tuesday night. “They have more to lose than we do. You can play us close in the eyes of people or lose to us and in either direction have a chance to fall out of the [top] four.”
Saturday figures to be an exhilarating day of football as the playoff field comes into sharper focus. The Big 12 title game at 11:30 a.m. from AT&T Stadium in Arlington will be a strong opening act, one that could create further chaos nationally should the Sooners fall.
The CFP selection committee clearly is not showing the Big 12 a strong amount of respect. After the top two teams --- Alabama and Miami --- lost, Oklahoma moved up only one spot in the rankings.
The Sooners (11-1) now find themselves behind a twice-beaten team, Auburn, which ranks No. 2 after a fairly convincing victory against Alabama. And TCU (10-2) is ranked behind four other twice-beaten teams despite an early-season win against Oklahoma State in Stillwater.
As a result, Patterson is not overly optimistic about his team’s hopes of reaching the playoff if it avenges its 38-20 regular season loss to the Sooners on Saturday. He feels limiting the field to four teams diminishes story lines and possibility for compelling drama.
“I don’t think four teams gives you the chance of the Cinderella story, which I think everybody loves,” he said. “I think eight teams does. And I think really you could pick eight teams off the bat right now that could play in this playoff pretty easily.”
This weekend, we’ll see if the committee can get the four teams correct for this year’s playoff bracket.
And we’ll see if – in a cruel twist – the Big 12’s attempt to better position itself for inclusion in the field by bringing back the league title game will backfire in a big way.
If the league misses the playoff for the third time in four seasons, this time it can blame itself.