Uh Oh Big 12
So you thought the Big 12 got hosed last year when both Baylor and TCU were left on the outside looking in when the first college football playoff commenced? Well be prepared Bears and Horned Frogs (and Cowboys and Sooners)….cause I’m guessing you ain’t seen nothing yet. With the release of the initial Committee rankings last night, Baylor at 7-0, and TCU at 8-0, respectively grabbed the 6th, and 8th spots, while a one loss Alabama and a one loss Notre Dame were parked in the number 4 and 5 spots. Oklahoma State, also 8-0, claimed the #14 position, with one loss Florida, Stanford and Utah all ranked ahead of the Pokes.
So what gives? Isn’t actually winning your games the most important thing to do after all? Well, apparently not so much in this new world order of the CFP.
The talking heads on ESPN last night all seemed just fine with the Committee’s top four picks, leaving the Big 12 out in the cold once again (at least for now), all except, strangely enough, SEC champion and promoter Paul Finebaum, who thought the Bears were deserving and the Crimson Tide were not. The sentiment conveyed by the others however seemed to center on the lack of quality Big 12 opponents so far, not actual records, with the Big 12’s “Big 4” of Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma all still looming on each others’ schedules.
“Play the strong non-conference games and you’d be getting the early credit you think you deserve,” seemed to be the prevailing theme. But what about #2 LSU and their non-conference schedule, a schedule that consisted of McNeese St., Eastern Michigan (if anyone can even tell me where those two schools are located you get a cookie), and a pathetic Syracuse team that has lost 5 games in a row. Is a 34-24 victory over a 3-5 Syracuse team any more impressive than TCU’s 23-17 win over the 4-4 Golden Gophers?
What the Committee will tell you, if anyone outside of ESPN actually had access to them that is, is that LSU already has a couple impressive wins in their little tiger-striped pockets, wins against the 10th ranked Florida Gators, and the 20th ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs. And you know what? I can’t argue that point. They’re undefeated and deserve their lofty ranking, as does Clemson and Ohio State. Alabama and Notre Dame on the other hand, both sitting with losses on their records (Bama’s even being a home loss) is where I have a problem. But they both have the big-time football name, the vaunted history and long tradition, and that seems to matter for some reason when Committee members are voting. Baylor, TCU and OK State beware. You just aren’t as sexy. And your back-loaded schedule is hurting you.
But let’s look forward shall we, as anyone with a microphone will tell you, it will all work out Big 12, you’ll get your chance, no need to worry, this is just week one. But being the naturally born skeptic that I am, of this I am not so sure. I’ve got a news flash for the Big 12…guess what? You are not the teacher’s pet. The Committee likes conference championship games and you don’t have one. They told you last year in their own, not so subtle way by excluding the Bears and Frogs from playing in their reindeer games, and yet you didn’t listen.
Remember just last year when the Big 12 sat idle, and the other 4 power conferences played their championship games, their top squads getting one last chance to impress? It’s how Ohio State jumped over the Bears and the Frogs with their 59-0 trouncing of Wisconsin in the Big 10’s big game. The Committee likes that stuff.
So this year, instead of creating a championship game, the Big 12 decided to back-load the conference’s big games, creating a quasi, month long in-house tournament. It starts this Saturday with TCU at Oklahoma State, then over the next 4 weeks the Big 4 will all play each other in an exciting “round robin” of games. It makes for a thrilling November, exciting games for the fans and great for TV ratings…but, upon further review, perhaps not so great for the conference and it’s member teams.
My first thought is that no one from the Big 12 will emerge undefeated through November, and a one loss team from the Big 12 will have no chance, once again, to play for a National Championship – a carbon copy of what happened to Baylor and TCU last year. But what if a team does run the gauntlet? Let’s say TCU, for example, does finish the year with a spotless record, with wins against Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and Baylor along the way. No-brainer the Frogs are in the playoffs, right? Surely they’ll be a shoe in, right? As Mr. Corso would say, not so fast….
Here’s how it can, once again this year, all go wrong for the Big 12, and how the back-loading strategy might back-fire big time. Let’s use the Bears for this “what if” scenario, since they have the highest ranking of any of the Big 12 schools at #6. Now if Baylor had already played the Sooners, Cowboys or Frogs and had beaten them, I’d be willing to wager large that they’d be sitting at #4 instead of Bama with their one loss. Then, if they could run the table and finish with an unblemished record, they’d be impossible (I would think) to keep out of the mix. But because they don’t have that “big win” yet on their resume to impress the Committee members, they’re starting in a hole at #6. Of course, one could argue that if Baylor would schedule a legitimate non-conference opponent – and beat them – they wouldn’t be in this situation, but that’s an entirely different article.
So let’s look at Baylor’s competition, and where, to the Big 12’s potential future dismay, I believe each team has a great chance of ending up. Clemson, sitting at #1 has the easiest path to the playoffs, with their only real test at all coming in this weekend’s home game against #16 Florida State. After that it should be smooth sailing for the Tigers straight to either Arlington or Miami for the playoff semifinals. LSU, at #2, plays in Tuscaloosa against #4 Alabama Saturday night, and you would think a loss would eliminate one of them from the picture. If it’s the Crimson Tide who ends up on the short end of the scoreboard they’ll be done – even an SEC bias can’t justify a 2-loss team in the playoffs. But what if LSU loses on a last second field goal? Is that a worse loss than Bama losing at home to Ole Miss (and still keeping a top four ranking)? Just saying it would be interesting to hear the committee try to explain that one. But let’s say one of the two SEC front-runners does get bumped out of the top four this weekend, leaving only one still in the mix. The other team currently sitting pretty and controlling their own destiny is of course the #3 Buckeyes, who have every chance of running the table in the Big 10 and sliding right back into the playoffs with the chance to defend their title.
So let’s say its’ Clemson, either Bama or LSU, and Ohio State holding three of the four spots. That leaves one opening – and right now a one loss Notre Dame team sits ahead of Baylor. So what happens if Notre Dame wins out, which would then include wins against #11 Stanford, #22 Temple and a resurgent USC squad? If they already have them ahead of the Bears, do you really think the Committee will have the cojones to drop Notre Dame out of the top four at that point. They did it to the Frogs last year after they crushed Iowa State 55-3 in their last game of the season, but this time it’s everybody’s favorite independent, Notre Dame, not just little ol’ TCU. We’re talking the Golden Dome here after all – seven Heisman Trophy winners, Touchdown Jesus, the Four Horsemen, Rudy, Knute Rockne and the Gipper. And of course no one, including the Committee members, wants to piss off the Pope. Uh oh Big 12.