MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) There is very little middle ground for the Big 12 as the league begins the stretch run.
Things could go very right or horribly awry.
Start with things going right: Either No. 5 Oklahoma or No. 8 TCU, both with one loss and meeting this Saturday in Norman, wins out and makes college football’s playoff. Things break right in other games and the league ends up getting eight of its 10 members eligible for a bowl game.
Oh, and the Sooners’ Baker Mayfield wins the Heisman Trophy.
It would be a financial boon. A huge positive in terms of visibility. It would make for a very happy holiday season for a league that the rest of the nation always tries to dismiss.
”We’re built for a November run right now. We’re ready for it,” said Mayfield, whose Sooners remain fifth in the College Football Playoff rankings after their win over Oklahoma State.
Georgia, Alabama, Notre Dame and Clemson are ranked ahead of them, while the Horned Frogs jumped up two spots to slide in right behind the Sooners in the latest CFP rankings.
”Oklahoma State was the one in our way last week. TCU is the one in the way this week. Our goal is to get to the Big 12 championship, so we have to take care of business this week,” Mayfield said. ”We’re ready for it. We’ve been talking about it all year. We have to play well late in the year and we’re doing just that.”
Now, though, consider if things go this way: The Sooners or Horned Frogs meet again in the Big 12 title game and split their two games, each ending up with two losses. Kansas State loses out, Texas Tech and Texas each lose twice more and the league lands five bowl-eligible teams.
It would be a season largely gone to waste for the Big 12.
”Every game is important. You have to be ready to play each and every week,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, whose team still harbors Big 12 title hopes. ”Everyone realizes the Big 12 is kind of jumbled up right now. It’s as competitive as it’s ever been. It’s as deep as it’s ever been and I’ve been in it for 15-plus years. And the players understand that.”
That’s evident in the fact that just about every team still has something on the line.
For the Sooners and Horned Frogs (both 8-1, 5-1 Big 12), the path to the reincarnated Big 12 title game and a spot in the national semifinals is clear. Oklahoma only has lowly Kansas and the Mountaineers after this week while TCU has Texas Tech and Baylor to finish the year.
The Cowboys (7-2, 4-2) have only lost to Oklahoma and TCU, and could slide into the title game with a little help. They face Iowa State this week before finishing with Kansas State and Kansas.
The Cyclones (6-3, 4-2) largely control their own fate, thanks to impressive victories over the Sooners and Horned Frogs, even though they’re coming off a loss to West Virginia. They close against Baylor and Kansas State, where they should be favored in both.
”These kids keep grinding away and I really appreciate that about them,” Cyclones coach Matt Campbell said. ”I think they’re continuing to grow and understand what it takes to be truly successful.”
The Mountaineers (6-3, 4-2) visit Kansas State this week. If the Sooners lose to TCU, Holgorsen’s bunch likewise would control its own destiny – win out and punch a ticket to the title game.
Of course, that’s no sure thing with a trip to Norman to cap the regular season.
”There isn’t a whole lot of Big 12 championship talk around here right now,” Holgorsen said. ”It’s everybody’s goal going into the season, but it’s not something we focus on. It’s important we focus on the next game, regardless of who you’re playing each and every week.”
Texas (4-5, 3-3) needs to win two of three against Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech to become bowl-eligible under first-year coach Tom Herman. Kansas State (5-4, 3-3) must beat the Mountaineers, the Cowboys or the Cyclones to reach a bowl game. And the Red Raiders (4-5, 1-5) need two wins among a closing slate of Baylor, TCU and Texas to reach a bowl game – and possibly save coach Kliff Kingsbury’s job.
”We know that everything’s still in front of us,” said the Red Raiders’ Jah’Shawn Johnson. ”We’ve had some games that we know we should have won, could have won, whatever. But that’s in the past. We let it go and we just keep flying around and stay positive at practice. Everyone’s still in great spirits, because we know we have three opportunities to do and show what we’re capable of.”
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