For only the second time in the history of The Associated Press poll, Saturday will feature four games matching top 10 teams: Clemson vs. Miami (Fla.), Auburn vs. Georgia, Ohio State vs. Wisconsin and TCU vs. Oklahoma – all in conference championship games.
Two of those games – the SEC and Big 12 title games – are rematches of regular-season games. On Friday and Saturday, there will be five other rematches. USC vs. Stanford in the Pac-12, UCF vs. Memphis in the American Athletic, Toledo vs. Akron in the Mid-American, Florida Atlantic vs. North Texas in Conference USA and Fresno State vs. Boise State in the Mountain West.
In the Power Five conferences, there have been 64 championship games and 22 of those have been regular-season rematches. Of those 22 games, the winner of the regular-season matchup won the championship game 14 times. That’s a 63 percent success rate. Four of those winners went on to win the national championship (Oklahoma in 2000, LSU in 2003, Texas in 2005 and Auburn in 2005.
Saturday’s results will help determine the College Football playoff final four and seeding. No conference and no team have as much to lose as the Big 12 and Oklahoma. The decision by the league’s board of directors to reinstate the championship game after a five-year absence was based largely on consultants’ research that the Big 12 would enhance their CFP chances by giving its best team a chance to play an extra game – the magical 13th data point.
The $30 million in extra revenue – $3 million per school – had nothing to do with the decision. (Your Veteran Scribe winked furiously while typing that sentence.)
Oklahoma, ranked No. 3 this week by the CFP committee, is 11-1. The Sooners will face 10-2 TCU Saturday in AT&T Stadium. OU handily defeated the Frogs 38-20 in Norman on Nov. 11. They have to repeat that outcome or almost assuredly the Big 12 will be left out of the CFP for the third time in four years.
First-year coach Lincoln Riley was asked about the scenario on Monday’s Big 12 teleconference. He chuckled before answering.
“I knew this question was coming,” Riley said. “It’s what the league decided. Last year at this time, I wish we would’ve had that game. Two years ago, it wouldn’t have helped us much. Look, it is what it is.”
Tsk, tsk, such a young age to be mimicking Parcells and Belichick.
“You can sit there in any year and draw a scenario where it makes sense and where it doesn’t make sense,” he continued. “The reality of it — and I get it — is it’s not going to be perfect every single year. This was the format that they laid before this year started. We knew to win this league, if we were able to play well, we were going to get a chance to get in the championship game and then you’ve got to play well and win that one.”
In 2011 after being pared to 10 teams, the Big 12 didn’t have a championship game. Had one been in place matching the current format, league champion Oklahoma State would have faced runner up Kansas State. Assuming a Cowboys victory, that might have boosted Oklahoma State’s BCS ranking enough to break up the all-SEC national championship game between LSU and Alabama.
Before losing teams to realignment, the Big 12 had 15 championship games between its division winners. Six of those games were rematches of regular-season games and four times the regular-season winner won the rematch. Oklahoma won three of those rematches:
- 2000: Oklahoma defeated Kansas State 41-31 in the regular-season and then defeated the Wildcats, 27-24 in the Big 12 championship game.
- 2002: Oklahoma defeated Colorado 27-11 in the regular-season and then won the rematch, 27-9.
- 2007: Oklahoma defeated Missouri 41-31 in the regular-season and then beat the Tigers 38-17 in the Big 12 title game.
But as the investment bankers should tell eager and greedy investors, past performance is not an indication of future results. The inconsistent week-to-week performances of teams comprised of 18- to 22-year olds is why Las Vegas wise guys make a comfortable living.
TCU coach Gary Patterson has some favorable motivational tools:
Oklahoma is favored by a touchdown … the Frogs’ tackling/defensive effort in the first half against OU provided excellent and embarrassing video … TCU shared the 2014 Big 12 title with Baylor but winning the championship game would be a savory and singular achievement … also, the Sports Illustrated cover jinx is in play.
— Jack Dickey (@jackdickey) November 28, 2017
Oklahoma is playing as well as any team in the country. Baker Mayfield is going to win the Heisman Trophy and oversees the nation’s top offense. The Sooners and the Horned Frogs each lost to Iowa State, but OU managed to score 31 points while TCU’s offense was shut out (it’s only points came on a kickoff return to start the second half).
If Patterson has conjured a defensive game plan based on the earlier meeting, if a couple of turnovers/breaks go in favor of the Frogs, Saturday could be a disastrous day for the Big 12. An Oklahoma loss would make resurrecting a jerrymandered championship game would add to the Big 12’s long list of bad decisions.
Not that those consultants will feel any angst.
Oklahoma and Big 12 fans probably are being over-sensitive and feeling paranoid. But it would seem that the CFP committee is not a fan of the Sooners’ accomplishments.
OU won at Ohio State and has two more victories over top 10 teams (Oklahoma State and TCU). The Sooners lost at home to Iowa State (7-5). The committee, however, has consistently ranked Clemson, which is on top of this week’s rankings, ahead of the Sooners. The defending national champions’ only loss came at Syracuse (4-8).
There’s an obvious reason why Oklahoma’s resume is on the bottom of the pile.
The committee hates … Oklahoma's … defense.
— Stewart Mandel (@slmandel) November 29, 2017
Committee chair Kirby Hocutt, a former Kansas State linebacker and the Texas Tech athletic director, has repeatedly said that he and his fellow committee members value defense. Six of the top eight teams in this week’s rankings rank 11th or better in total defense.
The Sooners are No. 62 in total defense.
Of the 12 teams selected for the previous CFP final fours, seven ranked 12th or better in total defense. Only Oregon in 2014 was a true outlier; the Ducks were 89th in total defense.
Two to watch
Here is one player from each team who could be a difference maker in the Big 12 championship game.
Oklahoma running back Rodney Anderson: After being sidelined by injuries his first two seasons in Norman, Anderson was little used during the first half of the season (12 carries in the first five games. Over the last six games, he has 139 touches for 1,041 total yards and 15 touchdowns. No other Power Five back has been as productive. In the first meeting with the Frogs, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Anderson had 290 total yards and four TDs.
TCU defensive end Mat Boesen: The senior wasn’t around for the entire game against Oklahoma as he was ejected in the second quarter for kicking an OU player. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Boesen is coming off a record-setting performance; he had 5.5 sacks (TCU and Big 12 single-game records) against Baylor. The Frogs’ defense is fourth nationally in sacks. Pressuring Mayfield and containing his mobility could be one way to slow the Oklahoma offense.
Not a strong start
In his first season at Texas in 2014, Charlie Strong’s Longhorns finished 6-6 and then lost to Arkansas in the Texas Bowl.
Tom Herman’s first Texas team is 6-6 after a stunning home-field loss to Texas Tech. The Longhorns opened the Herman Era with a surprising loss to Maryland and closed the regular-season by allowing the Red Raiders to score 14 points in the fourth quarter that wiped out a 10-point lead. Only a bowl victory will make Herman’s first season better than his predecessor.
If Texas finishes 6-7, it will be the fourth-consecutive losing season. The last time that happened was 1935-38. For Herman, he’ll be 10-10 in his last 20 games as a head coach. He appeared shaken after Friday’s loss. It followed a road victory at West Virginia that was arguably the Longhorns’ best complete game in Big 12 play.
“I don’t have a good answer for you,” Herman said when asked about the season-long inconsistency. “I don’t know. I don’t know. They’re kids. We’ve got to figure that out, obviously.”
What is also obvious is that Texas is not “back.” The program remains stuck in neutral and no different than any other scuffling teams just happy to play in a meaningless bowl game.
“We’ll see when our slot comes up and what conversations occur,” Texas athletic director Mike Perrin said after Friday’s game. “I’m just glad we’re going to a bowl this year.”
Congrats, Longhorns. You cleared a low bar.