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Put Up or Shut Up: Playoff talk is cheap for the Big 12

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Oklahoma St Oklahoma Football

Oklahoma State and Oklahoma could face one another again in the Big 12 title game, under the league's new format.

Associated Press — Alonzo Adams

Officials and coaches from the Big 12 can talk as tough as anyone.

At the league’s annual media day gathering, commissioner Bob Bowlsby threw down the gauntlet, in a manner of speaking.

“Make no mistake,” Bowlsby said. “It’s not about making the playoff. It’s about winning national championships. That’s what we want to do.”

It was as close to trash talk as you might ever hear from the normally stoic, buttoned-up Bowlsby. Yet, to a certain extent, it was simply bluster and blather.

Win national championships? The Big 12? Don’t you have to be in it to win it?

As the College Football Playoff enters its fourth season in 2017, the Big 12 finds itself dragging behind. Among the so-called Power Five conferences, the league has made the fewest appearances in the CFP, with just one trip – by Oklahoma in 2015 – in the previous three years. By contrast, the SEC (or, rather, Alabama), the ACC and the Big Ten have reached the playoff in all three seasons of the four-team tournament’s existence, while the Pac-12 has qualified in two out of three years.

Last year, the Big 12 didn’t even sniff the CFP, as league champion Oklahoma, at 10-2, finished a distant seventh in the final rankings.

Talk is cheap. Seems like it’s time for the conference to put up or shut up.

At least publicly, Bowlsby has been preaching patience at every turn. He called the CFP era “a really short window” of time, and claims that the Big 12’s rise to national prominence could be right around the corner. These things are cyclical, he insists.

“The ACC was, I believe, 2-13 (actually 5-13) in the BCS era, and now they’re on top of the heap,” Bowlsby said, referencing last year’s national title by Clemson. “So I don’t – I really – it gets a little tiresome, because I know we play at a very high level. I know that top to bottom we’re the best in the country in terms of balance.”

Some Big 12 coaches and officials call it a perception problem. It’s not that the league is truly weaker than the other Power Five conferences, they argue, but rather that the national college football media (and the CFP committee) wrongly view it that way.

TCU coach Gary Patterson still can’t figure out how his team missed the CFP in the playoff’s inaugural season of 2014. The Horned Frogs sat No. 4 in the rankings heading into their final week of action, then smashed Iowa State by a 55-3 score. Essentially, they took care of business and did nothing worthy of a tumble.

But when the final rankings were revealed, TCU sat at No. 6, behind No. 5 Baylor, which had defeated the Frogs, 61-58, in their regular season matchup and had an identical 11-1 record.

Both the Bears and Frogs felt like they had strong cases for inclusion. Both were left out.

“Did we have teams that were worthy of being in the playoff?” Patterson said. “Now, you’re talking to the wrong person when, to me, the Big 12 should have had teams two out of the three times in the playoffs the last couple of years. And I wasn’t very happy that a team got into the playoffs that didn’t have (a conference title game appearance), because I was told, and Baylor was told, that you had to play a championship game to play an extra game to get into that (CFP semifinal) game, and then Ohio State got into the game without playing in their Big Ten championship game.”

True enough, the Buckeyes advanced to the CFP in 2016 despite not winning their division in the Big Ten and missing out on the conference title game. But Ohio State also boasted an 11-1 team with wins over Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin and – oh, by the way – the Big 12 champion Oklahoma.

All along, the CFP committee has held up the Big 12’s lack of a conference championship game as the league’s tragic flaw. In committee-speak, it’s known as the “13th data point,” as if they breaking down an accounting ledger.

So, the Big 12 successfully petitioned the NCAA and won the right to hold a conference championship game, despite its status as a 10-team league. The game returns to the mix for this season, but it remains to be seen whether it’ll have any sort of positive impact in the league’s quest to break into the CFP.

“The decision was made 100 percent based on our ability to compete at the national level,” Bowlsby said, dismissing any notion that money played a factor.

Because of the Big 12’s round-robin schedule, the Big 12 title game is guaranteed to feature a rematch between teams. Bowlsby said he and the league presidents didn’t consider that fact a negative, however. Rematches in other conferences’ championship games occur regularly, the commissioner noted.

The more pressing question for the Big 12 is this – will the title game have the desired effect? Back when the league contained 12 teams, before the exodus of Texas A&M, Nebraska, Colorado and Missouri to other Power Five leagues, a title game was a Big 12 fixture. And it tended to hurt the league’s chances as often as it helped them, when the “wrong” team won the championship game. Four times during the BCS era, upsets in the Big 12 title game prevented the league’s champion from moving on to the BCS final.

Nevertheless, the league has gone all in, sliding forward all its poker chips, feeling as though the reward outweighs the risk.

“That gives us the best springboard. Is there a possibility that a different team would win? Yeah, sure there is,” Bowlsby acknowledged.

In the 21-year history of Big 12 football, the league has produced only two consensus national champions – Oklahoma in 2000 and Texas in 2005. Both of the coaches who led those teams, Bob Stoops and Mack Brown, respectively, no longer hold those positions. In that same time frame, the powerhouse SEC owns 10 national titles, the ACC has claimed four and the Big Ten three. Only the Pac-12, with USC’s 2003-04 championships (the latter of which was later vacated due to NCAA violations), has a longer national championship drought among Power Five leagues than the Big 12.

So, yes, Bowlsby can trump the league’s record revenue distribution or its overall athletic excellence or the fact that the Big 12 led the 2016 bowl season in scoring defense all he wants. But in the CFP’s “high-stakes game of musical chairs” – Bowlsby’s words – it helps if you’re quick enough to find a seat.

“I think we finished in the top four in the country in 18 sports,” Bowlsby said. “But we’re here to talk about football, and we didn’t make the College Football Playoff. Obviously, that’s the coin of the realm at this point.”

Preseason All-Big 12 Football Team

Offensive player of the year: Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma

Defensive player of the year: Dorance Armstrong, DE, Kansas

Offensive newcomer of the year: Will Grier, QB, West Virginia

Defensive newcomer of the year: Elijah Walker, DB, Kansas State

Pos Name School Cl Ht Wt Notable

OFFENSE

QB Baker Mayfield Oklahoma Sr 6-1 220 Third in 2016 Heisman race
RB Justice Hill Oklahoma State So 5-10 195 1,142 yards rushing, 6 TDs
RB Justin Crawford West Virginia Sr 6-0 202 1,184 yards, 7.3 yards per carry
WR Allen Lazard Iowa State Sr 6-5 222 69 catches, 1,018 yards
WR James Washington Oklahoma State Sr 6-0 205 71 catches, 1,380 yards, 10 TDs
WR Keke Coutee Texas Tech Jr 5-11 180 55 catches, 890 yards. 7 TDs
OL Orlando Brown Oklahoma Jr 6-8 345 Leader of Big 12’s best offensive line
OL Connor Williams Texas Jr 6-6 320 Returning All-American
OL Dalton Risner Kansas State Jr 6-5 300 All-Big 12 in 2016
OL Zach Crabtree Oklahoma State Sr 6-7 310 Dominating offensive tackle
OL Austin Schlottman TCU Sr 6-6 300 Second-team all-Big 12 last season
K Clayton Hatfield Texas Tech Jr 5-10 185 Hit 13 of 14 field goals

DEFENSE

DL Dorance Armstrong Kansas Jr 6-4 246 League-high 20 tackles for loss
DL K.J. Smith Baylor Sr 6-1 260 7 sacks, 12 tackles for loss
DL Reggie Walker Kansas State So 6-2 235 6.5 sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss
DL Mat Boesen TCU Sr 6-4 235 6 sacks, 8 tackles for loss
LB Travin Howard TCU Sr 6-1 213 235 tackles in last two seasons
LB Ogbonnia Okoronkwo Oklahoma Sr 6-1 240 9 sacks, 12 tackles for loss
LB Taylor Young Baylor Sr 5-9 225 265 tackles in 3 seasons
DB D.J. Reed Kansas State Jr 5-9 188 19 passes defended, 3 interceptions
DB Jordan Thomas Oklahoma Sr 6-0 185 19 passes defended, 2 interceptions
DB Nick Orr TCU Sr 5-10 187 86 tackles, 4 interceptions
DB Tre Flowers Oklahoma State Sr 6-3 200 61 tackles, 7 pass breakups
P Michael Dickson Texas Jr 6-3 205 Third nationally with 47.4-yard average

Big 12/NCAA football predictions

staffers make their picks for how the college football season will play out.

  Brice Cherry, Sports Editor John Werner, Staff Writer Krista Pirtle, Staff Writer Brian Crownover, Sports Designer Tim Woods, City Editor Jim Wilson, Publisher

PREDICTED STANDINGS

First Oklahoma State 12-2 Oklahoma 12-2 Oklahoma State 12-2 Oklahoma State 12-2 Oklahoma 12-2 Oklahoma 12-2
Second Oklahoma 11-3 Oklahoma State 11-3 Oklahoma 11-3 Oklahoma 11-3 Kansas State 10-4 Oklahoma State 10-4
Third Kansas State 10-3 Kansas State 9-4 Kansas State 10-3 Kansas State 9-4 Oklahoma State 9-4 Texas 8-5
Fourth West Virginia 8-5 TCU 9-4 TCU 8-5 Baylor 9-4 Texas 9-4 Kansas State 8-5
Fifth TCU 8-5 Texas 8-5 Texas 8-5 TCU 9-4 Baylor 8-5 West Virginia 7-6
Sixth Texas 7-6 West Virginia 8-5 Baylor 7-6 West Virginia 8-5 TCU 8-5 TCU 7-6
Seventh Texas Tech 6-7 Baylor 7-6 West Virginia 7-6 Texas 8-5 West Virginia 7-6 Texas Tech 6-7
Eighth Baylor 6-7 Texas Tech 5-7 Texas Tech 6-7 Iowa State 7-6 Texas Tech 5-7 Iowa State 5-7
Ninth Iowa State 4-8 Iowa State 5-7 Iowa State 4-8 Texas Tech 5-7 Iowa State 5-7 Baylor 5-7
Tenth Kansas 3-9 Kansas 3-9 Kansas 3-9 Kansas 2-10 Kansas 3-9 Kansas 3-9

INDIVIDUAL HONORS

Offensive player of the year Mason Rudolph, OSU Baker Mayfield, OU Mason Rudolph, OSU Mason Rudolph, OSU Baker Mayfield, OU Baker Mayfield, OU
Top offensive newcomer Will Grier, WVU Will Grier, WVU Will Grier, WVU Will Grier, WVU Will Grier, WVU Will Grier, WVU
Defensive player of the year Travin Howard, TCU Dorance Armstrong Jr., KU Dorance Armstrong Jr., KU Dorance Armstrong Jr., KU Travin Howard, TCU Travin Howard, TCU
Top defensive newcomer Taquon Graham, UT Elijah Walker, KSU Elijah Walker, KSU Elijah Walker, KSU Elijah Walker, KSU Elijah Walker, KSU
Best quarterback Mason Rudolph, OSU Baker Mayfield, OU Mason Rudolph, OSU Baker Mayfield, OU Baker Mayfield, OU Baker Mayfield, OU
Best running back Terence Williams, BU Justice Hill, OSU Justin Crawford, WVU Justin Crawford,WVU Justice Hill, OSU Justice Hill, OSU
Best receiver James Washington, OSU James Washington, OSU James Washington, OSU James Washington, OSU James Washington, OSU James Washington, OSU
Best offensive lineman Austin Schlottmann, TCU Orlando Brown, OU Orlando Brown, OU Dalton Risner, KSU Orlando Brown, OU Connor Williams, UT
Best defensive lineman Dorance Armstrong Jr., KU Dorance Armstrong Jr., KU Dorance Armstrong Jr., KU KJ Smith, BU Dorance Armstrong Jr., KU Dorance Armstrong Jr., KU
Best linebacker Travin Howard, TCU Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, OU Malik Jefferson, UT Malik Jefferson, UT Travin Howard, TCU Malik Jefferson, UT
Best defensive back Jordan Thomas, OU D.J. Reed, KSU D.J. Reed, KSU Kamari Cotton-Moya, ISU Jordan Thomas, OU Jordan Thomas, OU
Best specialist Zach Sinor, OSU Michael Dickson, UT Michael Dickson, UT KaVontae Turpin, TCU Michael Dickson, UT Clayton Hatfield, TT
Most underrated Byron Pringle, KSU Taylor Young, BU Dravon Askew-Henry, WVU Taylor Young, BU Taylor Young, BU Shane Buechele, UT
Best coach Bill Snyder, KSU Mike Gundy, OSU Bill Snyder, KSU Mike Gundy, OSU Tom Herman, UT Tom Herman, UT
Heisman Trophy winner Sam Darnold, USC Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma Sam Darnold, USC Saquon Barkley, Penn State J.T. Barrett, Ohio State Sam Darnold, USC

TITLE RACES

Big 12 champion Oklahoma State Oklahoma Oklahoma State Oklahoma State Oklahoma Oklahoma
SEC champion Alabama Alabama Alabama Alabama Alabama Alabama
Big Ten champion Penn State Ohio State Ohio State Ohio State Ohio State Ohio State
ACC champion Louisville Florida State Florida State Florida State Florida State Florida State
Pac-12 champion USC USC USC Washington Washington USC
CFP participants Alabama, USC, Penn St., OSU Oklahoma, Alabama, Ohio St., Florida St. Alabama, Florida St., Ohio St., OSU OSU, Alabama, Ohio St., Washington Alabama, Ohio St., Florida St., Oklahoma Alabama, Ohio St., Florida St., USC
Title game finalists Alabama vs. USC Alabama vs. Ohio State. Alabama vs. Florida State Ohio State vs. Alabama Alabama vs. Ohio State Alabama vs. Ohio State
National champ Alabama Alabama Alabama Ohio State Ohio State Alabama

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