That Big 12 championship game in December might not have any playoff implications if there aren’t some notable wins outside the conference in September.
Ten-time Big 12 champion Oklahoma has an opportunity to get a big one in its Week 2 trip to Ohio State’s famed Horseshoe.
But for a league wanting to prove itself deserving of a spot in the College Football Playoff, and one that brought back its title game almost solely in hopes of a potential boost with the CFP selection committee, the Big 12 isn’t off to a promising start.
West Virginia and Texas, both in the Top 25 to start this season, lost the Big 12’s only opening-weekend games against other Power Five leagues. Then there was Baylor falling at home to Liberty, an FCS team just starting the two-year transition to the FBS.
The fifth-ranked Sooners’ game at No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday night comes only 12 months after the Buckeyes won by three touchdowns in Norman, and three seasons after Ohio State essentially knocked the Big 12 out of the first playoff in the four-team setup.
“People want to talk about the revenge factor,” said new head coach Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator for last year’s 45-24 loss. “Regardless who would have won that game last year, I think both teams will be very motivated and excited to play this game.”
Maryland’s 51-41 victory at then-No. 23 Texas that spoiled coach Tom Herman’s debut was one of two Big Ten wins against peer leagues the first full weekend of this season. The Pac-12 was 3-0 in such games while the SEC was 3-2. The ACC was 2-4, with two of those losses to ranked SEC teams, including No. 1 Alabama over then-No. 3 Florida State.
Big 12 teams have eight more non-conference games against Power Five schools this month, with six of those on the road. That includes Texas going to sixth-ranked Southern Cal on Sept. 16 in the first game between those schools since their Rose Bowl matchup a dozen seasons ago that the Longhorns won for the national championship.
No. 23 TCU plays Saturday at Arkansas, which won in double overtime last year in Fort Worth when the former Southwest Conference rivals met for the first time since 1991. Iowa State is home against Iowa, its instate rival from the Big Ten that won 42-3 in their game last season.
“I’m carrying the flag for TCU. My job is to win ballgames. That’s all I’m worried about,” said coach Gary Patterson, dismissing the notion of carrying the flag for the Big 12 in SEC country but still acknowledging the importance of victories in such games for the Horned Frogs and their league.
“If somehow you can scratch out a win, then you give yourself an opportunity moving forward in the conference to be what you want to be,” Patterson said. “You catch kids’ attention in recruiting and everything else if you can go win a game like this. That’s what we’re all trying to get accomplished.”
Herman was still offensive coordinator for the Buckeyes in 2014, when they beat Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten championship game. That propelled eventual national champ Ohio State to fourth in the final CFP rankings, jumping over TCU and staying just ahead of Baylor.
After the Big 12’s initial playoff snub, the Sooners made it into football’s final four in 2015. But the Big 12 last year became the first Power Five league to miss the playoff twice — and that was effectively determined after the opening month with a 3-6 record against peer conferences. Oklahoma started 1-2 with an opening loss against Herman-coached Houston and the setback to the Buckeyes, but then went on to defend its conference championship without losing another game.
Texas hosts San Jose State on Saturday before going on the road for the first time under Herman for the rematch of that Rose Bowl the Vince Young-led Longhorns won Jan. 4, 2006, for what is still the Big 12’s last national championship.
Before any chance to end that national title drought, the Big 12 first has to get back in the playoff.
And win some big games in September, even before playing the only round-robin league schedule among the Power Five that will determine the top two teams to meet in the league’s first title game since 2010.
More AP college football: http://collegefootball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25
Follow Stephen Hawkins on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/hawkaptexas