The phase of the season known as Championship weekend is only a few weeks away and we are already looking forward to some intriguing match ups: Clemson-Miami in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Auburn-Alabama winner vs. Georgia in the SEC, and Wisconsin vs. probably Ohio State looks like an intriguing Big 10 title game. Even a USC-Stanford or Washington State Pac-12 title has some appeal.
The Big 12, however, has created a hybrid game. Since it has only 10 teams and plays a round-robin one division 9-game conference schedule, first place Oklahoma must play a rematch with the team which finishes second, which right now looks like TCU.
The Sooners took care of the Horned Frogs on Saturday night in Norman. Winning the rematch–which can happen in championship games–is not that unusual, but it puts the Sooners in jeopardy of losing the chance to be in the championship game.
A year ago, the Big 12 didn’t have a championship game, which gave the title to the regular season champion. If that set up was in place this season, all the Sooners would have to do would be to beat Kansas and West Virginia. With an 11-1 record and road victories at Ohio State and Oklahoma State on their resume, they probably would have one of the four CFB playoff slots locked up.
But let’s play the scenario out completely. If the Big 12, which flirted with expanding to 12 teams for several months last year, had followed through on its plan and grabbed two of the leading contenders such as Houston and UCF (Central Florida), the conference would not only have a higher profile, but would also have a potentially intriguing conference championship game.
Imagine what this season would be like if the Big 12 looked like this:
Oklahoma State 8-2
West Virginia 7-3
Iowa State 6-4
Kansas State 5-5
Texas Tech 5-5
Imagine the excitement and attention a UCF-Oklahoma match up would create as part of the Championship Saturday build up.
The Big 12 could also have a solid recruiting base in the state of Florida. And, it would have a real championship set up.
It probably also could have avoided a rematch since with 12 teams the full round robin schedule would not be used. Oklahoma would have played the five teams in its own division, picked up three more crossover games from the other division and could possibly have avoided either a rematch with TCU or UCF, since the only guaranteed crossover game for the Sooners would be its annual meeting with Texas. The Sooners could easily have been matched up against Texas Tech and Baylor or even Houston.
Hindsight always offers clearer vision, but you could have seen the potential problems of no divisions and a first and second place rematch a year ago.
But it didn’t happen and once again the Big 12 could get shut out of the playoffs if TCU or someone else pulls off an upset of the Sooners in the championship game.
Right now the College Football Playoff selection committee rankings should be fairly clear. When the latest rankings come out on Tuesday night, Alabama, Miami, Oklahoma and Clemson look like the front runners with Wisconsin also in the mix.
Having another weekend such as the turmoil caused by two of the top three teams in the rankings (Georgia and Notre Dame) losing could create chaos, enough to revive chatter that the system needs to be tweaked to include four more teams.
But from our vantage point of having covered all of the playoff systems for the past 20 years, through the BCS era and now in the fourth year of the playoffs, the Southeastern Conference again is the key to the system working.
Here’s the smoothest path to the national championship game.
- Alabama or Auburn emerge as the SEC champion, grabbing one of the four playoff spots.
- The Clemson-Miami winner takes another spot as the ACC champion.
- Oklahoma wins out, including a rematch with TCU to win the Big 12 champion and take the third spot
- Wisconsin finishes unbeaten in the regular season and beats Ohio State in the Big 10 championship game.
Four champions, four spots. The Pac-12 will be the odd team out and have to settle for a berth in the Fiesta Bowl. The other 7 bids in the 6 bowl playoff system will be filled by Notre Dame (at 10-2 or maybe even 9-3), the highest ranked team from the Group of Five other conferences (Probably the American Conference champion winner), a runner up from the ACC to the Orange Bowl, and runners up from the SEC, Big 12, Big 10 or Pac-12.
There will be some grousing about a few spots and some arguments about the Top 4 seeds, but nothing major.
But what if–and you know there is always a “”what if” in these discussions–Georgia is the SEC champion and Alabama is available with a 12-1 record and the committee decides that the Tide, even with the loss to Georgia, is one of the four best teams in the country?
That scenario would give the SEC two of the four slots and create a huge debate about who gets left out of the mix between 13-0 Wisconsin, 12-1 Clemson or 13-0 Miami and 12-1 Oklahoma.
Using those parameters the possibility of an unbeaten Big Ten champion NOT being part of the playoffs seems impossible…but I would like to hear the argument against Alabama, either Miami or Clemson and Oklahoma.