The Big 12 came up a few yards short of the goal line again this season.
For the second time in three years, the College Football Playoff had no room for the Big 12's champion. Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Washington are in. Oklahoma, at No. 7 in the final playoff rankings, didn't come all that close.
There shouldn't be quite so much consternation and hand-wringing around the Big 12 about this year's snub for a few reasons. The Sooners didn't make the cut because they scheduled two brutally tough nonconference battles (like they were supposed to) and lost them. So this fate was foreseeable back in September, and coach Bob Stoops knows he can't do much "bellyaching" over the outcome, as he said this afternoon.
The two nonconference losses were two too many. There's a compelling what-if here: If Oklahoma had knocked off Houston in its season opener and stood 11-1 today, its only loss coming to Ohio State, would the Sooners be in?
With such a traffic jam for the No. 4 spot between Washington, Penn State and Michigan, it's hard to guess. Oklahoma would have as compelling a résumé as anybody else in this scenario, with its nine-game win streak and a true conference title game win over Oklahoma State as its final victory. Maybe it would be enough. Or maybe the lack of a 13th game would again hurt the league.
Real-life Oklahoma, at 10-2, was nowhere near the conversation when the dust finally settled Saturday night. That's partially also a reflection of the fact that folks around the country didn't have much respect for the difficulty of winning the Big 12 this year. The Sooners did something we've never seen before in the Big 12's 10-team era by steamrolling the league with a perfect 9-0 run featuring 430 points and few close calls.
An Allstate Sugar Bowl showdown with No. 14 Auburn should be a compelling (and winnable) battle for Oklahoma to lead the Big 12's bowl slate. That New Year's Six bowl trip and Stoops' 10th conference championship trophy will have to suffice for this season.
The rest of the Big 12's bowl slate is fairly appetizing, especially with a pair of reunions with exes. The Valero Alamo Bowl landed a battle of top-12 teams in Big 12 runner-up Oklahoma State and Pac-12 runner-up Colorado, and Texas A&M faces a Big 12 foe in a bowl for the second time in three years by landing the AdvoCare V100 Texas Bowl against Kansas State.
No. 16 West Virginia gets to chase its 11th victory in the Russell Athletic Bowl against Miami. TCU (AutoZone Liberty Bowl vs. Georgia) and Baylor (Motel 6 Cactus Bowl vs. Boise State) get to add positive endings to their disappointing 6-6 seasons by taking on legit opponents.
This bowl season at least gives the Big 12 one more opportunity to earn back some of the respect that eluded the league throughout the 2016 season. After the latest snub, Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby is left pondering a few big questions, but at least the conference shouldn't have to spend the entire offseason deliberating how to improve its playoff chances.
The Big 12 title game is coming back, adding that 13th game to the résumé of next year's champ. The nonconference scheduling around the league next season is just as strong. Oklahoma gets another chance to beat Ohio State in 2017.
For now, all the Big 12 can really say is this: Maybe next year.