A year ago, a Big 12 championship game might have helped Oklahoma make the case for a spot in the College Football Playoff.
Without one, the Sooners finished No. 7 and went to the Sugar Bowl.
This season, though, Oklahoma doesn’t figure to need the game to earn a berth, though a loss could cost the team — and the league — a spot.
The third-ranked Sooners will face 11th-ranked TCU on Saturday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, the first conference title game for the league since 2010.
“Oklahoma doesn’t need the extra game. They have more to lose than we do,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “I mean, you could play us close, or lose to us, and have a chance to fall out of the four.
“There’s no pressure here for us. This is all gravy here. You’ve got a chance to play in a championship game, it’s good for recruiting, you’ve got a chance to play in the metroplex, everybody gets a chance to see us.”
Sooners coach Lincoln Riley said he wasn’t concerned about the chance that the league could play its way out of a playoff berth.
“(Winning is) what we’ve got to do,” Riley said. “If they were just telling us that all of a sudden this week, we probably wouldn’t be real happy about it. But we’ve known about this for a long time. We knew it was going to come down to a championship game. All the Big 12 work in the beginning was to help to put yourself in that position, so now we are (here).
“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 right now.’ … It’s going to be different every year. There’s never a perfect answer. We gotta worry about ourselves and try and go play the best we can.”
Two summers ago, the Big 12 reinstituted the championship game, partially in response to Baylor and TCU being left out of the College Football Playoff in its inaugural season and partially to bridge the revenue gap between the league and the Southeastern Conference and Big Ten.
Instead of splitting the league into divisions, as every other major conference with a title game does, the league’s administrators voted to keep the nine-game round-robin conference schedule in place with the title-game berths going to the teams that finished first and second in the Big 12 standings.
At the same time, the league also juggled its schedule to try to avoid a rematch in successive weeks or close to it.
The two teams involved in this year’s game played Nov. 11 in Norman, Okla., where the Sooners used a big first half to beat the Horned Frogs 38-20.
Riley said it is a tricky balance putting together a game plan that differs from the one used earlier in the season without overthinking adjustments.
“That’ll be our challenge, and I think each coach has just got to make that decision,” Riley said.
A constant is Oklahoma senior quarterback Baker Mayfield, who enters the game with a headlock on the Heisman Trophy. In 27 career games against Big 12 opponents, he has completed 70.8 percent of his passes for 8,254 yards and 83 touchdowns with just 14 interceptions.
Mayfield threw for 333 yards and three touchdowns in the teams’ first meeting this season. Oklahoma also ran for 200 yards against TCU, the most allowed by the Horned Frogs all season.
But TCU went most of the game without Mat Boesen. The defensive end, who had 5.5 sacks in last weekend’s win over Baylor, was ejected early in the second quarter for kicking an Oklahoma player.
“He just plays with a lot of energy,” Patterson said of Boesen. “For his size, he plays with great leverage. He can play with bigger guys and then he has the speed to come off the edge and turn the corner.”
TCU will be without a key piece, though — at least to start. Safety Nick Orr will be suspended for the first half of the Saturday game after throwing a punch during a third-quarter brawl last week.
“It is what it is, and you go about your business,” Patterson said. “I’m not happy about it. … You’ve just got to roll with the punches and find a way to go win.”