NORMAN — So, now that it’s here, now that the Big 12 Championship Game has returned, the question must be asked:
Is it a good thing for the Big 12 Conference, or is it a bad thing?
If you’re a football coach, your answer is “neither.” More specifically, “It is what it is.” Whatever that means.
But the painful reality is that in 2017, as the Big 12 Conference is doing everything it can to regain credibility among the other Power 5 leagues, Oklahoma versus TCU on Saturday morning at Jerry World can only be a bad thing.
The Sooners, after all, are ranked No. 2 in the polls and figure to be a strong No. 2 or maybe even No. 1 when this week’s penultimate College Football Rankings are revealed Tuesday night.
In other words, OU is currently in the playoff. Without playing in the Big 12 title game, the Sooners would be a lock for the final four in next week’s final rankings.
Wouldn’t it be so very Big 12 of the Big 12 to implement an unnecessary conference title game only to have your best hope for a national championship in more than decade go down the drain because of a shocking upset in Arlington, Texas?
What a disaster.
Of course, OU coach Lincoln Riley steps in to lend a little common sense to any argument against the NCAA waiver that was needed to bring back the Big 12 title game.
“It would be easy for me to sit there and say, ‘Look, it was dumb of us to add the championship game, we would be in (the playoff) right now,’ ” Riley said. “That would be easy for me to say.
“(But) last year, we would have loved to have it. Because we were one of those teams that was probably playing some of the best ball in the country; would have loved to have the chance to have one more great win and maybe sneak into the playoff.
“It’s going to be different every year. There’s never a perfect answer.”
OK, true enough. Not having that 13th data point may have cost the Big 12 in the inaugural year of the playoff in 2014 when TCU and Baylor were declared co-champs of the league and both were booted out of CFP contention after other leagues staged championship games and actually did produce one true champion.
And it might have been helpful last season after the Sooners went 1-2 in nonconference play and then went undefeated against the Big 12, though a two-loss team in last year’s playoff field seems a bit of a stretch.
Still, in principal, Riley is right. A Big 12 title game may help in some years, and may hurt in others.
But this year is a big one for the Big 12.
Remember last year getting left out of the field for the second time in three years. Remember last year’s awful non-conference record. Remember last year’s all-time low 14 NFL Draft picks, by far the worst among Power 5 leagues. And remember other things, like no league network, a 10-member television inventory compared to everyone else’s 12-14, middling revenue returns and continually sagging recruiting rankings.
The Big 12 this year needs a shot in the arm, an image makeover, and getting into the College Football Playoff — and heck, winning the whole thing, which is something this Oklahoma team is capable of — would be just the thing.
And if the 11-1 Sooners beat 10-2 TCU again on Saturday at AT&T Stadium (OU won 38-20 in Norman back on Nov. 11), then maybe the Big 12 will be on its way to its first national title since Texas won it all in 2005.
Imagine what that would do for the league’s image.
But, of course, first things first. Oklahoma must defeat TCU — again — for those kinds of dreams to become reality. And the Sooners, a 7-point favorite, seem certain that it won’t be nearly as easy as it was back on Nov. 11.
“Listen, it’s two really good football teams going at it, just like it was a couple of weeks ago,” Riley said. “None of the points — none of anything that happened in that game carries over.
“This is a new game, it’ll be a different atmosphere, two teams that know each other well, and it should be a hell of a fight.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.