Listen up Big 12 fans, this could be a critical three weeks or so for your team.
The destiny of the Big 12 champion could be changed on a warm Saturday in September as the conference faces critical, and not so critical, nonconference games.
Oklahoma fans should be rooting for Texas, Baylor fans should be rooting for TCU, Kansas State fans should be rooting for Kansas and vice versa. Because in this new era of a College Football Playoff, where a committee decides the playoff berths and strength of schedule can take on an even higher meaning, it’s never too early to start planning for success when those initial College Football Playoff berth debates blossom in November.
Oklahoma State and West Virginia have a chance to make their individual mark on the season and strike a blow for the conference as a whole with upset wins over ACC juggernaut Florida State and SEC power Alabama in neutral site battles on Saturday.
And other big nonconference games could impact the Big 12's national title hopes against fellow Power Five foes in the next few weeks: Auburn at Kansas State, Tennessee at Oklahoma, Kansas at Duke, Iowa State at Iowa, Minnesota at TCU, Texas against UCLA, Arkansas at Texas Tech and West Virginia at Maryland.
“When all things are equal with records and whatnot, if someone has played a tougher nonconference schedule, it would usually benefit you,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said, while noting he believes tough nonconference games would have helped in the BCS era as well. “Otherwise, why play? Otherwise, you might as well just schedule three yawners that no one will pay attention to and not put yourself at risk of losing that game.”
But overlooked nonconference tilts such as Kansas State’s contest against Stephen F. Austin, Texas’ in-state clash with North Texas or Texas Tech’s opener against Central Arkansas this weekend could end up being just as important in the long term.
Any nonconference slip up from a Big 12 favorite could come back to haunt the conference as a whole, particularly since the last conference champion to finish the regular season undefeated was Texas in 2009. A one-loss Big 12 champion opens itself up for debates over its worthiness for a College Football Playoff Berth and a softer résumé won’t help its cause with the SEC, Pac-12, ACC and Big Ten likely to have teams in similar situations.
“We'll see how the committee thinks because we can't think for them,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “All we can do is do our best on the field.”
And it starts this Saturday.