Following a Saturday that featured a hail-and-lateral play that should’ve never been, Arkansas going hog wild in Fort Worth and Texas Tech surrendering infinity points in the desert, the Big 12’s playoff hopes have now taken multiple roundhouses to the face just two weeks into the season.
The Big 12’s top three preseason teams -- Oklahoma, TCU and Oklahoma State -- already have losses. Texas Tech and Kansas State missed opportunities to swipe signature victories from the Pac-12.
By any objective measure, the Big 12 has tumbled to fifth in the Power 5 playoff pecking order for the moment. This weekend is a critical one for the conference, which needs its flagship schools to deliver the league from the playoff abyss.
For the good of its own chances -- and that of the league’s other playoff dreamers -- Texas must preserve its newfound standing in a tricky road trip to the San Francisco Bay. Meanwhile, the Sooners desperately must secure a win over mighty Ohio State to keep their playoff hopes afloat, while providing the Big 12 with its second signature win.
If the Red River rivals both prevail this weekend, the Big 12’s perception will get a much-needed uptick headed into conference play. That won’t just directly boost the résumés of the Sooners and Longhorns, but will indirectly enhance the profiles of Baylor, West Virginia, TCU and Oklahoma State -- all of which will need more opportunities down the line for statement wins.
But if Texas and Oklahoma falter in their final nonconference tilts, the league could be left rooting for mass chaos elsewhere in the college football landscape order to have any shot of securing a coveted playoff spot.
“It’s a little bit unknown,” replied Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, when asked about his team going into the clash with the third-ranked Buckeyes. “In that we made far too many mistakes and didn’t play well enough [against Houston].”
Indeed, the Sooners will have to play much better against Ohio State, which will roll into Norman with an average margin of victory of seven touchdowns through its first two games. That, combined with Oklahoma’s disappointing opener in the 10-point loss to Houston, is why the Buckeyes opened as three-point favorites, making them the first team to be favored over Oklahoma in Norman in 16 years.
“I feel confident in what we’re doing,” quarterback Baker Mayfield said about the showdown.
Texas, meanwhile, has every reason to be confident as it heads to Cal. In Week 1, the Longhorns landed the biggest win of the Charlie Strong era -- and a big one for the Big 12 -- by dispatching then 10th-ranked Notre Dame in double overtime. True freshman quarterback Shane Buechele has led the way with a sensational competition rate of 71.7, which is tied with Mayfield for tops in the conference.
This, however, will be his first game away from Austin.
The Golden Bears fell to San Diego State over the weekend. But with Texas Tech transfer Davis Webb behind center, Cal remains dangerously capable of turning games in shootouts.
“We all have to be ready for this week,” said Texas linebacker Malik Jefferson, “because we’re going in as the big dogs.”
The Big 12 needs its two big dogs to feast this weekend to patch up the nonconference bleeding.
Already, according to ESPN Stats & Info, the Big 12 is the most likely Power 5 conference to have its champion finish with more than one loss. In fact, per ESPN’s Football Power Index, there’s now an 80 percent chance that the Big 12 champ will finish with two or more defeats; that percentage going into the season was only 36 percent.
Never before has a team made the CFP with two losses. And the chances of that happening out of a conference that nosedived in the nonconference can't be good.
But the Big 12 has a prime opportunity to reverse that downward trajectory this weekend.
With Oklahoma restoring its luster.
And the Longhorns retaining theirs.