If you’re the Big 12 — which technically contains 10 schools, which is part of the problem — you’re terrified. You have four teams ranked in the Top 25 by the College Football Playoff committee. Two of those are unbeaten. The Big 12’s highest-ranked team is Baylor at No. 6. Ahead of the Bears are one-loss Alabama, one-loss Notre Dame and unbeaten Iowa, the schedule of which has been the subject of much derision.
Roughly a month remains before the final rankings will be released, and much can/will change. As of now, this much seems not just clear but blatant: The committee has teed up the Big 12 for another massive disappointment. Even an undefeated Big 12 champ mightn’t make the field of four ahead of 12-1 SEC champ Alabama or 11-1 Notre Dame, which has a huge game against No. 7 Stanford remaining.
The Big 12’s schedule has been weird to the nth power. Before last weekend, none of the Big 12’s biggest four — Baylor, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and TCU — had played anybody of note. (Unless you count Tennessee, which is 5-4.) The conference’s first significant in-house game came Saturday. Oklahoma State routed TCU 49-29, but the unbeaten Cowboys were only No. 8 in the rankings released Tuesday.
The Big 12 learned last December that the committee values championships taken on the field. The inaugural playoff included four teams that had conference title games. It omitted Baylor and TCU, which the Big 12 declared co-champions, even though TCU had beaten Baylor. (The Big 12 has no championship game because it lacks the required 12 teams.) Even if Baylor or Oklahoma State finishes unbeaten, it won’t have won a championship game.
Baylor’s remaining schedule includes Oklahoma State, Oklahoma and TCU, with the latter two games on the road. Besides Baylor, Oklahoma State will play Oklahoma. If the Cowboys beat Baylor and lose to Oklahoma, the Big 12 will again be positioned to be barred from the playoff.
As for the field itself, three teams seem set, or as set as teams can be with a month remaining: If Clemson, Ohio State and Alabama win out, they’ll be in. If Notre Dame wins out, it’ll be, too. If Stanford beats Notre Dame and wins the Pac-12, the Cardinal will make it.
And the Big 12 will kick and scream and, just maybe, reassess its scheduling. Baylor’s non-conference games were against SMU, Lamar and Rice. Oklahoma State’s were against Central Michigan, Central Arkansas and Texas San Antonio. (At least TCU played Minnesota and Oklahoma played the Vols.)
One note, though: Clemson figures to meet North Carolina in the ACC title game. The Heels have quietly become a hot item, if that’s possible. They weren’t ranked by committee last week, and they’re No. 23 after beating Duke 66-31. (That opening loss to South Carolina, which has been revealed as a terrible team, still smarts.) But the Heels can score, and they do have Gene Chizik running their defense, and Chizik does have two national championships, including one at Texas as a defensive coordinator, in his figurative pocket.
Put it this way: The SEC championship figures to be Alabama-Florida, and I give the Gators no chance. If the ACC title tilt is Clemson-Carolina, I give the Heels a puncher’s chance.