The college football season is already nine weeks old. For me, every season takes an amazingly long time to arrive. Yet before I know it Halloween is over, Christmas decorations are creeping their way into the aisles, and the CFB post-season picture is lending itself to countless theories across the country.
Once again, right on schedule, Halloween has come and gone in the blink of an eye. When the costumes were peeled off and the make-up was blotted away, the Big 12 found itself with four teams with a legitimate shot at a conference championship and a playoff berth.
The roads travelled to November by Baylor, TCU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State have in no way been similar. They have won games by huge margins, pulled out last-second, exciting victories and squeaked by inferior opponents by the skin on their teeth. But here they are, ready to start taking each other on in what promises to be an unforgettable November.
All but one of the Big 12’s final four has an unblemished record and that’s OU. The Sooners had a head-scratching loss to Texas in the Red River Rivalry. They’re definitely the team who has the smallest margin for error. We’ll start with them as they’re the lowest ranked of our four.
Record: 7-1 (4-1)
Games Remaining: Iowa State, at Baylor, TCU, at OK State
Playoff Ranking: 15th
How They Got Here: The Sooners are quietly playing as well as anyone in the country right now. Since their loss to the Longhorns they’ve outscored KSU, Tech and Kansas 180 to 34. Their non-conference slate was highlighted by a dazzling come-from-behind win at Tennessee.
Another loss would knock OU clear out of the playoff picture and it will be very interesting to see how the Texas loss affects them. Because, other than that and their 31-24 win against the Vols, nobody has come even close to making the Sooners sweat.
What Happens Now: What the Sooners have working against them the most (other than the RRR loss) is geography. After they get the ‘Cyclones in Norman, they’ll have to do something no traveling team has been able to do yet. And that’s win at McLane Stadium.
If they conquer Baylor in their own house they’ll have to turn right around knock off TCU in Norman and the Frogs have proven they can win on the road. After that it’s Bedlam in Stillwater. Few atmospheres, if any, can match the intensity of that game so needless to say OU has their work cut out for them.
Oklahoma State Cowboys
Record: 8-0 (5-0)
Games Remaining: TCU, at Iowa State, Baylor, Oklahoma
Playoff Ranking: 14th
How They Got Here: Oklahoma State is, in my opinion, the most intriguing team in the Big 12. Myself, and a number of other people, are not sold on the Pokes but they just keep winning. Other than Kansas they’ve struggled beating multiple Big 12 teams that a serious contender shouldn’t. They’ve had some calls go their way and have taken advantage of some gifted mental gaffs by their opponents. However there hasn’t ever been a conference champion who didn’t get the occasional break.
What Happens Now: The Pokes are 8-0 and they control their own destiny which is where every team wants to be. Also, they have an ace up their sleeve and that’s the coveted home-field advantage.
They’ll face TCU, Baylor and OU in the friendly confines of Boone Pickens Stadium. When a race is as close as this Big 12 marathon is, any advantage you can get is gold. If OSU is set on proving their doubters wrong, they couldn’t have asked for a better stage in which to do it.
TCU Horned Frogs
Record: 8-0 (5-0)
Games Remaining: at OK State, Kansas, at Oklahoma, Baylor
Playoff Ranking: 8th
How They Got Here: TCU, led by Heisman candidate Trevone Boykin, came into 2015 with sky-high expectations after humiliating then #9 ranked Ole Miss 42-3 in the 2014 Peach Bowl. The Frogs sputtered out of the gate this season barely getting by Minnesota which stirred some doubt. Since then, they’ve had other close calls including a three-point nail-biter against Tech and a sloppy win against Kansas State.
What Happens Now: To their credit, TCU’s defense has been missing key players throughout the season and they are steadily getting healthier. The Frogs will get their first big test this weekend in Stillwater. The Pokes are looking to prove the naysayers wrong and the atmosphere will be nothing short of electric.
They’ll be favored against OSU and obviously Kansas. After that they’ll have to get back on the road and win in Norman followed by the home finale against Baylor. There’s no shortage of landmines in that lineup.
Record: 7-0 (4-0)
Games Remaining: at Kansas State, Oklahoma, at OK State, at TCU, Texas
Playoff Ranking: 6th
How They Got Here: Baylor, the Big 12’s highest rated team at number 6, has been an offensive juggernaut. They’ve been pulverizing their competition and, out of the seven games they’ve played this year, have scored under 56 points just once. However, for what it’s worth, that “low” scoring production of 45 points came in their last game against Iowa State. Baylor, while putting up jaw-dropping numbers, still has plenty left to prove before they’ll be taken seriously as a playoff contender.
What Happens Now: The Bears have two big question marks looming over their heads. One, they’ve played only one team all year with a winning record and that’s Texas Tech. They simply haven’t been tested. Also, and most importantly, their quarterback Seth Russell is officially out for the year due to a neck injury.
Backup Jarrett Stidham has looked great but it’s been against bad defenses that have already been blown out. To get where Baylor wants to go, they’ll have to be led by a true freshman quarterback. Not only that, but their untested offensive line will have to protect him.
One more interesting challenge Baylor has is their remaining schedule. They’re only team who have played seven games as opposed to eight. He’ll get his first start against the limping Kansas State Wildcats which is probably the best thing that could’ve happened for him. After that it’s OU, at OSU, at TCU and then Texas.
As what tends to happen when post-season rankings are announced, passions ran high yesterday. The playoff committee, regardless of what people think about it, sent a crystal-clear message to the Big 12. That message was, “we’re not sold.”
Many think a one-loss Alabama team has no business being in the top four over a no-loss Baylor or TCU. Some think the foundation has been laid to snub the Big 12 from the playoff picture again. Whatever your thoughts are on the subject, one thing is for sure. The Big 12 wanted November drama and they got it.
What do you think? Is Baylor a legit playoff candidate or are they a result of their easy schedule up to this point? Has TCU’s sloppy play at times shown their soft underbelly? Is Oklahoma State hanging on by a thread? Did we see the real Oklahoma in Dallas against Texas or was that a fluke?
There are still scads of questions to be answered and each of our four best in the conference will get a chance to answer them. Strap in for November because it’s going to be fun.