After being left out of the college football playoff last year, the Big 12 Conference felt pressure to make some changes. They opted out of conference expansion or a championship game. Instead, the conference decided to stand pat and hope a back-loaded football schedule would put the spotlight on the league late in the season. They counted on Baylor, TCU, OU and OSU being the league’s top teams. Well, their wishes came true, which just might be the problem.
The playoff committee is punishing the conference in the polls, citing lack of quality wins as justification for some questionable rankings. The league’s top teams do not have many wins against teams with records .500 or better. That is true. Why don’t they? The back-loaded schedule.
The back-loaded schedule will indeed bring attention to the conference as the regular season winds down, but it is also holding the league back. Moreover, it has put the conference in a situation where it probably has to produce an undefeated champion to get a team in the playoff. The back-loaded schedule creates a bunch of exciting matchups late in the year. The catch? It forced the conference’s other teams to play the league’s best in consecutive weeks, hence the few teams with records at or better than .500.
Take West Virginia, for example, they had to play OU, OSU, Baylor and TCU in consecutive weeks. Their lone win was against Texas Tech, and they’ll be favored in their remaining games. Had they only played one of the top four teams to this point, say OSU, they could easily have an overall record of 7-1. Their only loss would be against a top 10 team, and OSU would have a “good” win. If WV wins the rest of their games and finishes 8-4, will the league’s best teams get credit for a “good” win? In theory, yes, the committee will consider that. In reality?
Finally, due to the perception of the league and the current rankings that reflect that perception, a one-loss champion will have a hard time getting into the playoff. You get punished for losing late in the year. Stupid, but true….(which is why I think computer rankings should determine the top four teams, but that is another story). Not only is it better to lose early in the year, it is apparently better to lose early in the day. Jeff Long, chairman of the playoff committee, said as much. He cited the tough spot that Stanford was in when they lost an 11am kickoff at Northwestern. Their tired old pacific coast bodies thought it was 9am. Did they take the red eye flight early Saturday morning? Anyway, a more balanced Big 12 schedule would’ve given teams a chance to recover. Had TCU lost to OSU in week five, they’d still have a chance to get back in the mix. As it is, their odds are incredibly slim. With some help, a one-loss OU has a chance to get into the playoff. OSU and Baylor won’t have that luxury. Run the gauntlet, or get left out. If the conference gets denied, you can blame the back-loaded schedule.