The future configuration of the Big 12 could hinge heavily on what happens this season.
At least according to several of the conference’s coaches.
“I think this year will indicate a lot,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “Whether we’re being hurt by not having a championship game.”
In many ways, 2015 could be a defining season for the future of the Big 12.
Even after the College Football Playoff selection committee revealed in the spring that the Big 12 was at a disadvantage in not holding a conference championship to give its teams a chance at a 13th game, the league opted against implementing one for this season.
The Big 12, however, has continued to pursue a waiver from the NCAA that would remove the 12-team requirement of conferences to stage a championship game.
Should the league get snubbed by the committee again this season, the Big 12 could promptly abandon its current format and add the championship game for 2016.
“I don’t think it necessarily will go three to five years (before the Big 12 changes) if the same thing happens in Year 2,” said Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads. “I don't think the times will allow that to happen.
“There’s an urgency about it.”
Indeed, these are pressing times in the Big 12.
Two rounds of conference realignment, which saw Colorado, Nebraska, Texas A&M and Missouri exit, left the league on the verge of extinction. The additions of TCU and West Virginia stabilized the Big 12 in the short term.
But the conference hasn’t had a program play for the national championship since Texas in 2009. And the Big 12 hasn’t had a team win the national title since the Longhorns did it in 2005.
The league had two legitimate contenders last year in Big 12 co-champs Baylor and TCU, which both went 11-1 during the regular season. The Horned Frogs, however, dropped from No. 3 to No. 6 in the final CFP rankings, even after blasting Iowa State by 52 points. The Bears finished No. 5, despite defeating ninth-ranked Kansas State.
Ohio State, meanwhile, grabbed the fourth and final playoff spot after routing Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten Championship.
“We got left out. We need to be in a consistent improvement mode,” conference commissioner Bob Bowlsby said at Big 12 media days earlier in the week. “We need to play better. We need to get better in every single way.”
Stoops, however, expressed concern that the Big 12's not having a 13th game might be too big a hurdle for the league to clear consistently.
“I don’t know this, but if they’re putting points on victories, if the committee is adding points, and you’re getting, say, plus four points for that 13th game,” Stoops said, “it’s going to be hard to overcome.”
That might not be the only disadvantage for the Big 12. This year, three of the top four teams in its preseason poll won’t even be playing on the final Saturday.
Baylor will face Texas on Dec. 5. But TCU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will finish their regular seasons the weekend before. Given how dramatically the committee shifted its rankings on championship weekend last season, that could deprive a Big 12 playoff contender the opportunity to send the committee a statement when it might matter the most.
“That 13th game on that Saturday, I think, is important,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, whose Mountaineers travel to Kansas State in the only other Big 12 game on championship weekend. “Right now, less than half our league is playing a 12th game on that Saturday. So this year, what happens if Oklahoma is 12-0 or 11-1 and they’re in discussion and they’re not playing on that last Saturday?
“To me, you have to have a championship game.”
CFP executive director Bill Hancock noted earlier in the week that while a conference championship catapulted Ohio State past the Big 12, “one year doesn’t make a trend.”
But for the Big 12, another year out of the playoff could force the return of the championship game.
“If [a championship game] is being weighted, then I would think that’s what needs to happen [in the Big 12],” Stoops said.
“I think we’d need to consider that.”