NORMAN — Chaos across the college football landscape is the only hope the Big 12 Conference champion has of making this year’s playoff.
But not this much chaos. Not all at once.
The problem with last week — No. 2, No. 3 and No. 4 all lost — was that it was too much too soon. Clemson, Michigan and Washington all losing on the same day actually became an obstacle to the Big 12 gaining any real traction toward the four-team playoff field.
Just look at this week’s rankings. Those teams all suffered their first loss, and none fell out of consideration.
An outsider like the Big 12 would be better served if there were three unbeaten teams at the top of the standings. That would leave the Big 12 champion — remember the CFP’s inclination toward rewarding conference champs — clamoring for that fourth spot with a handful of other contenders.
Instead, too many one-loss contenders simply pushes the Big 12 out of the conversation. It’s like that line in the Disney movie “The Incredibles”: when everyone is special, then no one will be. Whether it’s Ohio State, Louisville, Clemson, Michigan or Washington, or even some two-loss teams like Wisconsin or Penn State or perhaps even Utah or Colorado, the Big 12 loses every comparison.
Look no further than the league’s pathetic non-conference results. The Big 12’s best non-league victories are against a 6-4 Pittsburgh team (Oklahoma State won 45-38) and a 3-7 Missouri team (West Virginia won 26-11). Also, WVU’s 35-32 victory over 6-4 BYU holds up nicely. There’s also a victory over 4-6 Notre Dame (Texas won 50-47) that looks less impressive every week.
That’s it. And that’s terrible.
Oklahoma was nearly blown out on the road by an 8-2 Houston team that’s now taking on water. And the Sooners were crushed in their own stadium by one of the top playoff contenders, 9-1 Ohio State. TCU lost to 6-4 Arkansas in two overtimes. Texas Tech lost a wild west shootout at 5-5 Arizona State. Texas lost at 4-6 Cal. Kansas State lost to 7-3 Stanford. Iowa State was blown out by 6-4 Iowa.
Nothing the Big 12 did outside of league play is even remotely impressive. The league’s non-conference record of 19-11 is by far the worst among Power 5 leagues, and is actually well below the American Athletic Conference’s current out-of-conference record of 30-15.
At least the Big 12 champion has an opportunity to finish strong.
This week, 7-0 Oklahoma (8-2 overall) visits 5-1 West Virginia (8-1 overall). In two weeks, 6-1 Oklahoma State (8-2 overall, though Mike Gundy would like you to believe that’s debatable) visits the Sooners.
One thing is certain: either OU, OSU or WVU will win the Big 12, and an 11-1 Mountaineer squad might be the league’s best chance at a playoff berth. There may yet be just enough chaos unfurl this season to negate the Mountaineers’ uninspiring non-conference wins.
And although “One True Champion” may actually happen, there’s also a solid chance of a three-way tie.
Then the Big 12 champ will go to the Sugar Bowl. Which is a nice consolation prize, all that jazz and Cajun food, but leaves the league stinging for the second time in three years over a playoff omission.
If OU beats both WVU and OSU, the Sooners will become the Big 12’s first unbeaten champion in the post-realignment era, and that’s something.
But a two-loss Oklahoma won’t return to the College Football Playoff — not without some major future upsets that makes last week’s historic and shocking run look like the norm.
OU coach Bob Stoops, after whipping Baylor in Norman, witnessed last week’s nighttime anarchy and was surprised “to some degree” that three of the top four and five of the top 10 lost, he said. “But that’s college football. Every year, you have some of that.”
Stoops said he doesn’t root for teams to lose so his Sooners can leapfrog them, though he said he does openly pull for his alma mater, Iowa, pulled off Saturday’s unlikeliest of upsets over Michigan.
“Outside of that,” he said, “I’m not sitting there with my pom-poms out.”
Stoops said his emotions won’t affect the outcome of games or how the College Football Playoff committee will vote, so he tries to simply observe other teams and coach his own.
“All we’re trying to do is have a great (day) today and get a good jump on our preparation for West Virginia and improve through the week and hopefully be at our best when we go there this Saturday night,” he said.
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard on The Franchise Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. every weekday with co-host Lauren Rew and most mornings on The Franchise in Oklahoma City. Listen on fm107.9, am1270 on the 107.7 Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page.