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
|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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|Big 12 champion||Oklahoma State||Oklahoma||Oklahoma State||Oklahoma State||Oklahoma||Oklahoma|
|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|
|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|