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How The Big 12 Would Have Fared Historically In An Expanded CFP

A look at how the conference would have hypothetically done for over two decades.

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With news coming out recently about expanding the College Football Playoff to twelve teams, I thought it would be interesting to see which teams throughout the history of the Big 12 would have qualified given the proposed new format. College football has changed a lot since the inception of the Big 12 in 1996, when a John Blake-led Oklahoma team went 3-8 on the season, to now, when the Sooners are the odds-on favorite to win the conference every season.

Below, I’ve gone back and listed every Big 12 team that would have been seeded in the CFP since 1996, breaking it up into three sections. Overall, I think one takeaway here is that the new system would likely benefit whatever conference was more dominant at the time, as is the case with the four team playoff. Based off of this exercise, which uses previous AP, BCS, and CFP rankings, the format of the proposed expansion would mean that most years those team ranked 1-12 in the CFP will likely be the ones to get in. The more teams a conference has in those rankings, the more representation they’ll receive.

Of course, it’s technically impossible for any conference to have more than seven teams, but because most of those teams would play each other in the regular season, the real limit is probably about five schools. The best year for the Big 12 would have been 2001, with four teams qualifying. The conference would have seen three entrants in 1998, 2000, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2011, and 2014.

YEARQUALIFYING TEAMS (AP)
1996#6 Nebraska, #8 Colorado
1997#2 Nebraska, #8 Kansas State

For the first couple of years of the Big 12’s existence, the results of the final Associated Press Poll, after all championship games had been played, was used. The old Big 12 North division was strong at the beginning of the league’s formation, as many of the old Big 8 powerhouses that formed that part of the conference were dominant. Nebraska was then still a national championship contender on the regular. As you’ll continue to see below, the Huskers would have qualified for every 12 team CFP from 1996-2001.

YEARQUALIFYING TEAMS (BCS)
1998#3 Kansas State, #6 Texas A&M, #11 Nebraska 
1999#3 Nebraska, #6 Kansas State
2000#1 Oklahoma, #8 Nebraska, #9 Kansas State
2001#2 Nebraska, #3 Colorado, #7 Texas, #11 Oklahoma
2002#7 Oklahoma, #8 Kansas State, #10 Texas
2003#1 Oklahoma, #6 Texas, # 10 Kansas State
2004#2 Oklahoma, #4 Texas
2005#2 Texas
2006#10 Oklahoma
2007#4 Oklahoma, #6 Missouri, #8 Kansas
2008#1 Oklahoma, #3 Texas, #7 Texas Tech
2009#2 Texas
2010#7 Oklahoma
2011#3 Oklahoma State, #8 Kansas State, #12 Baylor
2012#5 Kansas State
2013#6 Baylor, #11 Oklahoma

The BCS era would have been interesting for the Big 12. In 1998 and 2003, when there were upsets in the Big 12 championship game, the top ranked teams would not have been the conference champions. That means the winner of the Big 12 crown would get a higher seed, and in both cases, they would not have received the benefit of a bye. In 2001, however, when Texas was upset in the Big 12 championship, Colorado would have been the No. 3 seed, and would have been awarded an extra week of preparation.

The 2002 season would have featured a rematch between Oklahoma and Texas if they were seeded strictly according to the current proposal. Of course, there have been rematches between teams in both the CFP and BCS eras in the postseason, and moving to a tournament format in a sport that tends to be dominated by just a few conferences every year will no doubt lead to even more of that.

As you’d imagine, an expanded CFP would have made the rich even richer for the Sooners. Oklahoma would only have missed a berth in the playoff nine teams throughout the conference’s history. Kansas State would be next up in terms of total number of entrants with eight, and Texas would come in at third with seven trips. Of course, realignment would affect these numbers. Here, only teams that were a part of the Big 12 in any given season were included in the seeding. TCU would have qualified in from 2008-2010 from the Mountain West, and when West Virginia was in the Big East, they would have qualified in 2005 and 2007.

YEARQUALIFYING TEAMS (CFP)
2014#5 Baylor, #6 TCU, #11 Kansas State
2015#4 Oklahoma, #11 TCU
2016#7 Oklahoma
2017#2 Oklahoma
2018#4 Oklahoma
2019#4 Oklahoma, #7 Baylor
2020#6 Oklahoma, #10 Iowa State

The Mountaineers, interestingly, are the only team in the current Big 12 that would have not ever qualified for an expanded CFP (yes, Kansas would have qualified – check out 2007) while they were a part of the conference. If we consider West Virginia’s entire history over the last 20-plus years, though, then we can say that every team currently in the league would have been part of the College Football Playoff at least once within a couple of decades. Those types of bragging rights are important for any school, and over time, it seems like expansion has the power to spread such accolades around.

There’s also a good argument to be made from this history for the Big 12 to push to add more teams. With more playoff spots available, a bigger conference has the chance to have more qualifying teams. Moving to have divisions also wouldn’t hurt, since a round robin format creates more of a “zero sum” scenario where having elite teams at the top would likely mean having more 4-8, 3-9 or 2-10 teams at the bottom every year, at best. That was the case in 2014, the year where the Big 12 would have set a record for amount of qualifying teams that they’ve had since realignment.

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