Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlby watched parts of unbeaten Baylor slipping by TCU in triple overtime before he drove to Norman, Oklahoma, where the Sooners survived a scare from Iowa State.
Competition in the Big 12 this season is fierce, unpredictable and fun. Parity makes for good watching. It also presents a quandary about the league’s College Football Playoff chances.
“It makes it more difficult, there isn’t any question about that,” Bowlby said. “Our teams have to be ready every week.”
Consider this: Half of the Big 12’s games have been decided by eight points or less. Six Big 12 teams have wins against a Top 25 opponent from the league. Iowa State’s three conference losses have been by a total of 10 points.
And now it comes down to this weekend. No. 10 Oklahoma (8-1, 5-1 Big 12, No. 10 CFP) and No. 12 Baylor (9-0, 6-0, No. 13 CFP) meet in Waco, Texas. Aside from front-runner status at stake in the Big 12, the loser will surely be eliminated from playoff consideration, while the winner would still need considerable help.
The Sooners’ hopes took a hit with a 48-41 loss at Kansas State on Oct. 26. Bowlsby is realistic that Oklahoma won’t reach the playoff on its own merits.
“Because of Oklahoma’s loss, I would guess that they need a little bit of help from some place,” Bowlsby said.
First-place Baylor is one of five unbeaten teams remaining in the FBS but has been anything but dominant. The Bears have two overtime wins and two other victories by three points or less. They trailed in the fourth quarter in four of their six league games and were tied in the fourth quarter with West Virginia.
Still, “it’s hard to imagine that an undefeated Baylor wouldn’t be selected, but you just never know,” Bowlsby said. “There’s a lot of football to be played.”
Oklahoma has been the league’s only playoff participant and has done it three times. The Big 12 has been shut out of the playoffs twice.
In 2014, before the Big 12 championship game was revived, Baylor and TCU finished as league co-champions at 11-1 but missed the playoff, getting leapfrogged by eventual national champion Ohio State.
Bowlsby said the Big 12 talks regularly with the 10 members of the playoff committee and provides information when requested, “but we don’t lobby them. Lobbying is not welcome.”
Baylor coach Matt Rhule said any chatter about the playoff isn’t coming from him.
“I hear about it from my 15-year-old son every day and I hear about it on social media stuff,” Rhule said. “But I think for us, we came into this season with a goal of trying to be a team that could make it to the Big 12 championship game. And with three games left, we still have a shot at that. From our perspective, that’s really where our attention lies.
“I’m sure the players see all that stuff and pay attention to it. But I think our focus is purely on the conference and certainly on Oklahoma this week,” he said.
While Baylor and Oklahoma control their own destiny for reaching the league title game, four other teams are still in contention: Texas has two league losses, while Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Iowa State each have three.
The 10-member Big 12 is the only Power Five conference that plays a round-robin schedule. That guarantees a rematch in its championship game, which was revived in 2017.
“We don’t have any dispute over the two teams that play for our championship,” said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy. “They have the best record in the league and they all play each other. So I think that’s a positive. The only issue is is that you’re going to have a repeat game, but there’s no other way to do it. So I think the direction we’re going is best because people know that our two best teams get to the championship game.”