It is hard to believe that we’re already entering the fourth season of the Big 12 in its 10-team configuration. Bucking the trend of expansion, the league seems content to continue playing on with fewer than a dozen schools. (The better the payday distribution for each team still standing, after all.) What will that mean in the new College Football Playoff era, though?
On one hand, the fact that each Big 12 squad plays a full round-robin schedule against every other team within the conference. Except for the Pac-12, every other Power Five league plays only eight conference opponents. Considering further that the SEC, ACC, and Big Ten have all expanded to 14 teams yet still play only eight other conference rivals each year, the fact that the Big 12 produces a definitive league champion annually could work in its favor in the CFP selection committee’s eyes.
On the other hand, though, the Big 12 has not played a conference championship game since Oklahoma beat Nebraska in 2010. With every other Power Five conference hosting a 13th game for its division champions, there is also the argument that the Big 12 contenders will have fewer opportunities to impress the selectors. Nine conference games, further, only bolster a team’s credibility when those other schools field strong units. An extra game against a team like Kansas or Iowa State doesn’t exactly do wonders for the strength of schedule, and the round robin could come back to bite the league in a close push for a playoff spot.
But the rising tide that has seen Kansas State and Baylor break up the Oklahoma/Texas hegemony over the conference ultimately means that these potential black marks are less pronounced than they might have been five years earlier. A deeper pool of contenders combined with a round robin means that there are more true tests of the talent on the field, and that we are far less likely to see a controversial situation like the three-way tie for the Big 12 South in 2008 now that every team plays everyone else.
Ultimately it comes down to the various resumes of several capable but flawed contenders for the conference championship. The upstart and the blueblood alike have opportunities to seize the upper hand in the league. The Bears and Wildcats should once again be in the hunt, the last two conference champs built for more than just fleeting greatness. Oklahoma has become the darling of the preseason thanks to their dismantling of Alabama in last January’s Sugar Bowl, while Texas is optimistic at the start of a new era. In a league where 10-2 could possibly win the title, does anyone have the credentials to survive two losses and still reach the playoff?
So who will dominate the flyover states and claim the Big 12 crown? Click ahead to see predictions for the order of ranking in the conference…