Big (12) Trouble: Weak Conference Could Doom Oklahoma’s College Football Playoff Hopes

Although there’s plenty of football left to be played, the Oklahoma Sooners have vaulted themselves into ideal positioning for a College Football Playoff spot. But will the Big 12 hold them back?

Last year, the Big 12 debated expansion, giving BYU, Cincinnati and Houston serious consideration for invitations. After watching Houston take the Sooners to the woodshed last season, not too many folks would have criticized the conference for adding the Cougars. Both BYU and Cincy would have also received at least lukewarm receptions.

While the addition of these programs would not have altered the landscape of college football, the Big 12 would have been a little deeper and, with twelve members again, true to its name. The expansion would have also led to a lucrative Big 12 television network and boosted the conference’s efforts to get its members into the College Football Playoff — a serious matter given the money at stake and the fact that the Big 12 was represented just once (Oklahoma in 2015) in the playoff’s first three seasons.

Despite this, the conference stayed put with its current core, opting to create a new Big 12 title game to boost its playoff resume instead. While a thirteenth game doesn’t hurt, it may not be enough to get the Big 12 the playoff invite it seeks this season.

Despite a less-than-stellar performance last week against Baylor, Oklahoma has taken care of business so far. The Sooners easily dispatched non-conference opponents UTEP and Tulane and beat second-ranked Ohio State on the road by 15 points. The victory over the Buckeyes was massive for the Sooners’ playoff hopes and the perception of the Big 12 as a whole. Unfortunately, the rest of the Big 12 has not helped Oklahoma much with the latter.

In just the first month of action, Baylor has dropped home games to FCS program Liberty and Texas-San Antonio, Texas has lost to Big Ten afterthought Maryland and Kansas has lost to Central Michigan and Ohio. Furthermore, playoff dark horse Oklahoma State already dropped from the ranks of the unbeaten and top-25 West Virginia and Kansas State squads lost key non-conference games to Virginia Tech and Vanderbilt.

Sure, TCU is rising up the rankings, but it’s not great news for Oklahoma that the depth of its ten-member conference has already taken a few big hits. Now, the Sooners must hope that the Horned Frogs are for real and that the Cowboys, Wildcats and Mountaineers do not unravel.

If Oklahoma runs the table with dominant wins, it will be difficult for the playoff committee to keep it out. The Sooners’ road victory at Ohio State cements their place in most scenarios.

That said, if the rest of the Big 12 continues to disappoint and the Sooners are not dominant or lose a game, they could be in trouble. While USC and Washington did not schedule a team of Ohio State’s caliber for their respective non-conference slates, if either finishes undefeated against a tougher Pac-12, they very well could jump Oklahoma. If the Buckeyes drop another game or two, the Sooners would almost certainly be left out in this scenario.

With just four playoff spots available for five power conferences, conference pride has never been more important. If Sooners fans hope to see their team in the College Football Playoff, they might want to go buy some TCU and Oklahoma State apparel.

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