Big 12 could have looked much different this season
For the first time in five seasons as a 10-team league with a round-robin schedule, the Big 12 has no games on the final weekend of the regular season that will impact who wins the conference title.
While the other Power Five conferences play championship games this first weekend of December, the Big 12 wraps up its schedule with a pair of games with far less at stake.
No. 3 Oklahoma has already clinched its ninth Big 12 title outright. The Sooners (11-1, 8-1 Big 12, No. 3 CFP) finished their regular season with consecutive victories over No. 12 Baylor, No. 11 TCU and No. 14 Oklahoma State, beating their instate rival 58-23 last week in a de facto Big 12 championship game.
The way the schedule worked out this season, the league's four Top 25 teams all played head-to-head in November. While Baylor, Oklahoma State and TCU all went into November undefeated, Oklahoma was the only one of that quartet that didn't have two losses when December arrived.
Those four teams won't face that kind of back-loaded gauntlet against each other next season. The Big 12 released its 2016 conference schedule last week, with some notable differences. Those games are much more spread out.
With this season's Big 12 title settled, here is how things would have gone if the 2016 schedule was used - and how some other things could have been different:
- No more than one team would have made it out of October undefeated. Maybe none depending on the outcome of this Saturday's regular-season finale for Baylor against three-touchdown underdog Texas, a matchup that next season will be played before Halloween.
- Oklahoma would have again started 1-1 in conference play before seven victories in a row. But the Bedlam game next season against Oklahoma State will be played on the first Saturday of December. And the Sooners' games against the other three ranked teams next season are played in three different months, instead of three consecutive weeks.
- Oklahoma State won its first seven Big 12 games this season, but its league opener next year is in September against Baylor, the team responsible for the Cowboys' first loss in November.
- Kansas State and West Virginia will play in consecutive Big 12 games, this Saturday and then in the league opener for both next Oct. 1. The Wildcats wouldn't be 0-6 in the Big 12 if their games were played in next year's order. The Mountaineers wouldn't have started 0-4, primarily because they wouldn't have played Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and TCU in consecutive games to start conference play.
- Texas would have started at least 3-1 in the league, or even 4-1 with a win over Baylor, before losses the rest of the way.
- Baylor's losses would be bunched midway through league play, though the Bears would have been the only Big 12 team still undefeated after mid-October.
- TCU would have faced Oklahoma in its second league game, instead of second-to-last.
The first Saturday in December provided plenty of intrigue in the Big 12 the past four seasons.
Oklahoma State won its only Big 12 title in 2011, beating Oklahoma for the outright championship. The Sooners were co-champs in 2012 with Kansas State after both finished the regular season with victories.
Baylor then won back-to-back titles. The Bears won outright in 2013 with a win over Texas in the finale game at their old stadium after Oklahoma lost to Oklahoma State earlier that day, and shared the title with TCU last season after both won their regular-season finales.
WHAT'S AT STAKE
While Baylor can't win a third consecutive Big 12 title - something only Oklahoma has done (2006-08) - the Bears can still win 10 games and be the league's representative in the Sugar Bowl against an SEC team if the Sooners get a spot in the College Football Playoff as expected. The Bears host Texas on Saturday.
Kansas State can get its sixth win for bowl eligibility. But the Wildcats, who host West Virginia, would likely get a bowl invitation even if they lose to finish the regular season 5-7 since handful of teams with losing records and high academic rates as tracked by the NCAA will be needed to fill some bowl spots.
AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org