Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press
It is, admittedly, way too early in the season to declare an entire Power Five conference eliminated from College Football Playoff contention.
But with the way Big 12 teams have played this season, it’s fair to at least start thinking about what needs to be written in that conference’s CFP obituary.
Last season provided crystal clear evidence that there is plenty of time to bounce back from a rough start.
By the end of Week 5 in 2019, every team in the Pac-12 had suffered at least one loss, and the league entered October without a single team ranked in the Associated Press Top 10. We all wrote off that conference.
Lo and behold, Oregon and Utah caught fire and appeared in the Top Eight of the initial CFP rankings in early November. They ended up blowing it when the Ducks lost to Arizona State late in the regular season and then trounced the Utes in the Pac-12 Championship Game, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Pac-12 was in the thick of the conversation until the bitter end.
It’s feasible the Big 12 could do something similar.
Oklahoma is already dead and buried with an 0-2 conference record, but Oklahoma State is 3-0 overall despite having played more than 11 of its 12 quarters without starting quarterback Spencer Sanders.
TCU lost its season opener, but it won at Texas and will host both Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. It’s a similar story for Kansas State, except the Wildcats won at Oklahoma and will welcome Oklahoma State and Texas to Manhattan.
Texas has more than enough offense to beat anyone. West Virginia has the defense to do the same.
Any one of those five teams could win each of its next seven games to enter the Big 12 Championship Game with a strong case for the CFP.
And yet we’ve spent so much of these first few weeks talking about it being a down year for the Big 12 that the league feels doomed to miss the playoff—even though neither the Big Ten nor the Pac-12 has played a single game.
Matthew Putney/Associated Press
During the Big 12 coaches’ teleconference Monday morning, TCU head coach Gary Patterson voiced his displeasure about the way people view and talk about the conference:
“It really bothers me that we’ve based everything that whether our league is good or bad or not on whether Oklahoma and Texas are good,” Patterson said, per The Athletic’s Max Olson. “To be honest with you, we have a lot of good football teams, and we always have had a lot of good football teams.”
It’s a valid point. Swap the records of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, and all these “What’s Wrong with the Big 12?” articles never surface. Heck, if Oklahoma were 3-0 and had played without starting quarterback Spencer Rattler for almost the entire season, the articles would instead be something like, “Already Thriving, Sooners Might Finally Win a CFP Game If They Get Healthy.”
But Patterson’s point does ring hollow when you remember Oklahoma and Texas were just about the only teams in the Big 12 to make a positive impression during this year’s truncated version of nonconference play.
While the Sooners and Longhorns destroyed Missouri State and UTEP by a combined 107-3, Iowa State, Kansas and Kansas State produced an 0-3 record against the Sun Belt, Texas Tech narrowly avoided a disastrous loss to Houston Baptist and Oklahoma State could barely move the ball against Tulsa.
In retrospect, most of those results don’t seem so terrible. Kansas State’s loss to Arkansas State is still befuddling, but Louisiana (which beat Iowa State) and Coastal Carolina (which beat Kansas) are still undefeated. Tulsa just upset UCF in Orlando, Florida. And Bailey Zappe averaged 458.3 passing yards while leading Houston Baptist to at least 31 points in each of the four games it played.
Still, we already had a negative perception of the Big 12 before Oklahoma and Texas started struggling. Things merely went from bad to worse as those flagship programs cobbled together a 1-3 record over the past two weeks.
Per DraftKings, there are 10 teams with 60-1 or better odds to win the national championship.
Not one of those teams hails from the Big 12.
Despite its two losses, Oklahoma (66-1) inexplicably still has the best odds in the conference. Even more absurd, Oklahoma State (150-1) is not only behind Oklahoma but also Texas (80-1), Auburn (100-1), LSU (100-1), Mississippi State (100-1), Texas A&M (100-1) and UCF (100-1).
I’m obviously not a huge believer in the Cowboys if I agreed to write on this topic, but it says a lot about the national opinion of the Big 12 that its undefeated leader has worse odds to win the title than four one-loss teams in Alabama’s division and a one-loss Group of Five team.
Sure, if Sanders recovers from his high ankle sprain, he, Chuba Hubbard and Tylan Wallace could lead one of the most potent offenses in the nation—an offense capable of taking on all comers in a disappointing conference, an offense certainly good enough to consistently win if the defense keeps holding opponents to 274.3 yards and 9.0 points per game.
But those betting odds reiterate what we already figured out: Not one team in the Big 12 should be trusted to consistently win this season.
Mark Rogers/Associated Press
The conference’s saving grace might be the Pac-12’s equally woeful playoff outlook.
At No. 12, Oregon is the only Top 25 team in that league. In a shortened season, that means the Ducks have seven games (six regular-season tilts plus the conference championship contest) against unranked foes to try to prove they’re one of the four best teams in the country.
Good luck with that.
If the Pac-12 gets left out, though, that doesn’t necessarily mean the Big 12 will get in.
There’s a strong possibility two SEC teams get in to the playoff. That’s also feasible for the ACC, which has four teams ranked in the Top Eight. And if an undefeated Ohio State or Penn State faces an undefeated Wisconsin or Minnesota in the Big Ten Championship Game, that will mark another league with two better resumes than anything the Big 12 is liable to produce.
Again, there’s a lot of season yet to be played. But with the end goal of putting at least one team in the CFP, the Big 12 could not have had a much worse first month of play.
Kerry Miller covers men’s college basketball and college football for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter: @kerrancejames.