The college football season is winding down, and it looks to be an exciting conclusion. We’ve got Alabama, Oregon, Florida State, TCU, Baylor, Mississippi State and Ohio State all vying for just four playoff spots. How will it turn out? I’m not sure. But I do know there is one way it can turn out that would be very, very bad for the Big 12.
Let’s just get a few things out of the way. The SEC champion is in, no matter who it is. At this point it looks like Alabama and Missouri will play for the SEC championship. Unless Missouri gets there with a third loss the winner of that game is more than likely in the playoff.
The Pac-12 winner is probably in the playoff. That looks more and more like it will be Oregon, but if it is UCLA, Arizona State or Arizona there’s a chance that if they have just two losses they are in. But only Oregon is for sure.
Florida State is in if they win out. That looks pretty likely.
Ok, so if three playoff spots are pretty much spoken for, which of the four remaining teams gets the final playoff spot? I think we can safely eliminate Mississippi State from the list. TCU and Baylor would be co-champions of the Big 12 and Ohio State would be the B1G champion. Mississippi State won’t even be able to claim their own division let alone their conference. Count them out.
That leaves TCU, Baylor and Ohio State. At this point in the season, the Buckeyes are playing the best football among the three. Wasn’t the case early on however, as they also have the worst loss, a beating at home from Virginia Tech. However, road wins against Michigan State and Minnesota will help, as would a conference championship over Wisconsin. A non-conference road game at Navy is better than anything on Baylor’s resume, and a home game against possible AAC champion Cincinnati is a boost. Maryland and Penn State are also bowl eligible, and both are road wins for the Buckeyes.
TCU is the highest ranked of them currently. They have the home win over Minnesota in non-conference play, but the SMU and Samford games hurt their cause, as does the most recent Kansas game. They also have a road game at Texas coming up that can be tricky. Wins against Kansas State and Oklahoma are impressive, but both came at home. The road win against West Virginia was by a last second field goal.
Baylor has the worst non-conference schedule in the country. It’s just bad. The win against TCU was impressive but at home. The win at Oklahoma was a very good one though. They still have to finish the season against Kansas State, but that one is at home as well. And as West Virginia struggles, that road loss looks worse and worse.
When all is said and done, Ohio State will have had three patsies: Kent State, Illinois and Indiana. TCU will have had five patsies: SMU, Samford, Texas Tech, Kansas and Iowa State. They struggled with one of them. Baylor will have had six patsies: SMU, Northwestern State, Buffalo, Iowa State, Texas Tech and Kansas. There may be 9 teams on Ohio State’s schedule that go to bowl games, depending on if Michigan can get one more win. TCU will have at most 7 if Oklahoma State can win again.
So all in all, Ohio State will have the stronger overall schedule, but TCU and Baylor will have the bigger wins as Oklahoma/Kansas State or TCU/Kansas State/Oklahoma will trump Michigan State/Minnesota. But wait…the Big Ten has something the Big 12 does not- a conference championship.
Right now that could feature Ohio State and Wisconsin. Wisconsin, should they win out, will have only road losses to LSU and Northwestern with wins over 6 bowl teams including Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota, three teams that will win at least 8 games each it’s looking like. If Ohio State beats Wisconsin, that more than likely pushes them over the top and puts them in the playoff over Baylor or TCU.
Some will cry foul. I wouldn’t. Baylor would be more deserving than TCU in light of the head to head win, but that non-conference schedule kills them. They could have done themselves more favors there. But another thing could have saved them too- a conference championship. Baylor would win the division and play in it against presumably a decent team. That would be enough to keep them in the four I think.
But how could the Big 12 just magically give themselves a conference championship? It’s called expansion. We’ve seen a lot of it lately and, in the words of one commissioner, have found 14 to be “the sweet spot.” The Big 12 has ten teams. They need to add at least two, but really should add four. The Pac-12 is going to eventually once UNLV and San Diego State get somewhere in football. In all other aspects they would do well in the Pac-12. But one day they will get invites, years from now probably, because fourteen really is the sweet spot.
So what about the Big 12? How do they expand? Who do they add? This is kind of a no-brainer. To the west you add BYU and Colorado State. Both are big schools, give you new markets, bring good competition to the league and open up new recruiting grounds and TV viewers. They make natural rivals given their past history in the WAC and MWC. They are good in both football and basketball and have been consistently, BYU more so than Colorado State. It makes so much sense on so many levels. And both schools would say yes without hesitation, assuming the no playing sports on Sunday is cool with the Big 12, which, why wouldn’t it be?
The addition of West Virginia has left them hanging, and the other two teams in expansion should come from their neck of the woods. Cincinnati is a must. Very close to West Virginia, Ohio is a great market to open up, big school, good athletics…makes a ton of sense. But who else? The only ones worth targeting are all taken by the Big Ten, SEC and ACC. Louisville would have been great. Arkansas would do nicely, as would recently departed Nebraska, Missouri or Texas A&M. But none of them are going to happen. There are only three viable options I would look at: Memphis, Tulane and Marshall. They all have their bonuses and upsides. The downside is none of them are perennial powers in football in their own bad leagues. It’s likely they wouldn’t be competitive in the Big 12, except possibly Marshall if they can continue their success. In basketball Memphis would be a steal. Tulane is the academic beast of the bunch, not so much the athletic one. Memphis and Tulane open up Tennessee and Louisiana to the conference, two good markets and recruiting locales. That’s for the Big 12 to decide.
Either way, if after this season their champion isn’t in the playoff, you had better believe expansion will be a top priority to make sure they can get themselves a conference championship game. And if they make expansion a priority, the first two targets will be BYU and Colorado State. After that they will add Cincinnati and one of Tulane, Memphis or Marshall. My money would be on Tulane or Memphis though.
How would that work in football? You keep 9 conference games, 6 in your division, 3 outside it. Give each team one permanent non-divisional rival. The other 2 games are home and away and rotate between the other 6 non-divisional opponents. Here would be your divisions with the rival in parenthesis:
West Virginia (Iowa State)
Cincinnati (Colorado State)
Texas (Texas Tech)
Oklahoma (Oklahoma State)
Kansas (Kansas State)
Iowa State (West Virginia)
Colorado State (Cincinnati)
Texas Tech (Texas)
Oklahoma State (Oklahoma)
Kansas State (Kansas)
Division champions play at the home of the Dallas Cowboys for the conference championship each year. Put Baylor in this situation now. Imagine they get the same wins and losses. Add to that a conference championship game against TCU? Beat them twice and what would the committee say about that? Or what if Colorado State emerged with only two losses (unlikely I know)? If BYU’s quarterback wasn’t injured early this season they could be a two loss team. However you look at it, a quality matchup awaits each season. And in basketball you are a fairly strong conference. Geographically and academically these schools work well.
Think about it Big 12. You’re welcome.