Coming into what was seen as sort of a rebuilding year for the Big 12 conference, the two teams expected to be atop the table as the season winded down were Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. Many argued that the two schools would meet up in the return of the Big 12 Championship Game, and that the winner would secure themselves a spot in the College Football Playoff.
While the return of the conference championship should still have a serious impact upon the playoff field, the matchup will likely be featuring Gary Patterson’s TCU squad, undefeated after their first six games and sitting pretty ranked fourth in the country. Dark horse candidates at the start of the year, TCU’s hard-nosed defensive unit matched with Kenny Hill’s dynamic playmaking behind center has catapulted them into the national spotlight and put them in great position to make their first trip to the playoffs.
Surely Patterson knows not to take his foot off the gas pedal as the regular season winds down, and will use every matchup as an opportunity to prove something to the committee that left his third ranked TCU team out of the inaugural College Football Playoff in 2014. The Horned Frogs have put themselves in a great position to avoid that type of debacle this year, having already taken care of half of the conferences serious competitors in OK State and West Virginia.
Before they pummel Baylor in the final game of their regular season, TCU will take on Oklahoma and Texas Tech in consecutive weeks, a stretch that will put the strain on their defensive front and force them into having some of their strongest games. Even if they drop one of these matchups (preferably to Oklahoma), a one loss TCU team should still find themselves in the Big 12 championship with a real shot at the playoffs.
Calling TCU the clear-cut favorites at this point seems a bit premature however, as the one loss Sooners and Cowboys are still ranked in the top-10, and clawing to get back into the playoff picture. Oklahoma, who haven’t looked quite the same since their thrilling win over Ohio State in week two, definitely have the hardest remaining schedule of the three contenders. Taking on Kansas State and Texas Tech to finish out October, the Sooners will start November on the road against Oklahoma State, directly followed by a date with TCU.
Losing either one of these games will likely drop them out of the playoff race while making a conference championship berth an uncertainty, as well as giving a conference rival a very quality win down the stretch for their playoff resume. Finishing the regular season against a pesky West Virginia team will be no cake walk either, facing a powerful offense that’ll have a lot to play for in their last conference game. Moral of the story is that Oklahoma is going to have to turn it on to stay at one loss as the season winds down, and the huge win at Ohio State won’t matter nearly as much if they can’t handle their business in conference.
Mike Gundy’s Oklahoma State team is now the third-team dark horse as the season passes the midway point. Despite still being ranked 10th in the nation, the Cowboys have yet to impress me very much this season, despite being every bit the high-powered offense as advertised at the start of the year. Leading the nation in passing yards and points, Mason Rudolph’s offense is made for Big 12 play, without a single game under 40 points this season.
Their defense is what’s keeping them back, as we’ve seen throughout the Big 12 these past few years, and it’ll probably be what keeps them out of the conference championship game this season. After taking on Texas this coming Saturday, the Cowboys will have to prove themselves defensively against West Virginia and Oklahoma, two teams that will have no problem picking apart Gundy’s secondary for an entire game if they let them.
With six weeks remaining in the regular season, it seems as if the two most serious contenders, TCU and Oklahoma, have set themselves up as the favorites to meet up in December for the return of the Big 12 championship. Nothing is solidified, however, and there’s no telling whether Ok State will turn on the defensive heat as the season comes to a close, or whether a two loss West Virginia or Texas Tech team will use a huge win to send themselves right into contention.
The Big 12 is a wild, turbulent kingdom full of touchdowns and coaching changes, and I can’t to see who comes out on top.