Could This be the Year the Big 12 Breaks Through?
Although it is considered one of the “Power Five” football conferences, The Big 12 has not landed a team in the College Football Playoff National Championship game in the first three years of its existence.
The Big Ten, SEC, and ACC have each claimed crystal football trophies respectively – with Ohio State knocking off Oregon of the Pac 12 in 2014; Alabama defeating the ACC’s Clemson in 2015 and Clemson turning it around in 2016 by turning away the Tide.
In fact, the only Big 12 appearance in the College Football Playoffs has been Oklahoma in 2015, an Orange Bowl semifinal loss to Clemson.
Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby thinks the momentum could be shifting in his league's favor.
He liked how the Big 12 ended its 2016-17 season.
“We had a 4-2 Bowl record, and we played well in the postseason,” Bowlsby said during the Big 12 conference media day. “We, led by Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl, we got a pretty one-sided win there. We beat the representative from the Pac-12 by 30. We were 2-1 against the SEC in the postseason. I think that, by many measures, we had a really good postseason. And I mentioned that OU and Oklahoma State and K-State particularly delivered big victories.”
Good points. But perception has not been good. Members such as TCU, Texas Tech, Texas, Baylor, Oklahoma State, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State and West Virginia strike fear on most schedules but haven’t commonly been known as national championship caliber lately.
Oklahoma will again be the favorite, with 2016 Heisman Trophy finalist Baker Mayfield under center.
Mayfield finished third to Heisman winner Lamar Jackson, a Louisville freshman and senior quarterback DeShaun Watson of Clemson, now a Houston Texan.
Perception also says The Big 12 is a pass-happy, offensive-heavy league, with little (or no) emphasis on the defensive side of the ball.
But, not so fast, Bowlsby said.
“What you may not remember is that the Big 12 was first in scoring defense in the postseason last year, first among all conferences in scoring defense,” he explained. “For a league that is reported to be singularly interested in offense, that probably speaks volumes.”
Top to bottom, the Big 12 matches up well with all conferences, Bowlsby contends.
“I think our league has the best depth,” he explained. “We're the only one playing a full round robin, full nine-game schedule, and we're the only one that guarantees our two best teams are going to play each other in the postseason. So, I feel very good about what we are doing.”
Bringing back a Big 12 Championship Game – to be played December 2 at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, will raise the stakes for the league this year.
That should help perception, and Bowlsby hopes, his league's chances at landing a College Football Playoffs semifinal berth.
“I think our perception is somewhat a product of not being in the playoff two out of the three years,” he said. “I mean, that's a really short window.
“As most of you remember, the ACC was, I believe, 2-13 in the BCS era, and now they're on top of the heap,” Bowlsby pointed out. “It gets a little tiresome because I know we play at a very high level, and I know that top to bottom we're the best in the country in terms of balance. And I know that the method by which we conduct our championships and conduct our regular season is the most difficult because you never miss anybody.”
The new big game in Big D will be a shot in the arm financially also.
So did Bowlsby and the Big 12 powers-that-be decide to play their conference championship for the revenue? A shot at the playoffs?
And will a definite rematch of a regular season matchup hurt the marquee status of such a game?
“For the record, 33 of the championship games have been rematches,” said Bowlsby. “So, the rematch is not aberrational. It happens very regularly. And ours is going to be a rematch. But I can tell you what it was: the decision was made 100 percent on our ability to optimize the likelihood of getting a team into the CFP.
“The finances of it were… I don't ever recall them being discussed,” he added. “I think our board was mindful that there was more revenue available because it was embedded in our contracts. We had anticipated that we might, at some point in time, add a championship game back.
“But the decision was made 100 percent based upon our ability to compete at the national level.”
Filling the gigantic AT&T Stadium on likely short notice, as far as opponents go? No problem, Bowlsby said.
“I think our teams travel very well,” he added. “We, of course, have four members in the state. We wanted to put it on the biggest stage that we could put it on, and I think that's why we wanted to do this event in the Star.”
2017 Big 12 Football Media Preseason Poll
1. Oklahoma (19) – 303
2. Oklahoma State (12) – 294
3. Kansas State (1) – 231
4. Texas – 213
5. TCU – 202
6. West Virginia – 183
7. Baylor – 129
8. Texas Tech – 85
9. Iowa State – 83
10. Kansas – 37
First place votes in parentheses, followed by total votes.