Big 12 Needs Title Game To Consistently Make Final Four
Playing in what constituted a de facto national semifinal in the final season of the BCS system, the Auburn Tigers and Missouri Tigers didn't really need to watch any scoreboard but their own. The winner would be BCS bowl bound with a shot to fall into the national title game with an Ohio State Buckeyes loss, and the loser would likely be Cotton Bowl bound.
Meanwhile, in the Big 12, as the Baylor Bears and the Texas Longhorns prepared for a 3:30 p.m. ET season finale, they watched eagerly as the Oklahoma Sooners surged late to upset the Oklahoma State Cowboys. The Oklahoma win ultimately set up a one-game, winner-take-all scenario for Baylor and Texas in the Big 12. However, as college football looks to implement a playoff in 2014, not having a scheduled conference title game could damage the league's chances of placing a team into the
Final Four (all rights reserved) Fantastic Four (all rights reserved) ... Last Four?
A lot of what we assume to know about the impending College Football Playoff (desperately trying to be known as the "CFP" for brevity's sake) is conjecture. The structure itself is in place, the first three years of games are bid out and scheduled and we know that a group of humans, Condoleeza Rice (politician) and Tom Osborne (ostensibly a human, but who can be sure?) will form a selection committee that determines the field.
However, the criteria the committee ultimately leans upon to make their selections is largely an unknown. In most years, we can assume that the top couple of teams will be able to separate themselves from the rest of the field, making the first two or three choices relative happenstance. But, in looking at years past, filling that final spot always serves as the most challenging and spirited debate.
Major conferences that have a title game (the SEC, Big Ten, Pac-12 and ACC) have an opportunity to make a final impression on the committee. In some instances, a season-ending matchup with what is most often a quality opponent may stand to whittle the field of potential participants down, but in many cases it will give teams in those four conferences a chance at a defining win (on a neutral field in three of the four leagues).
And while one conference tournament game doesn't stand to erase an entire season's body of work (as evidenced by what we've seen in college basketball), we can assume that such a game will have added weight in shaping the opinions of committee members.
Throughout the course of the regular season, we'll receive updates as to where teams stand in the eyes of the committee, but there won't be any weekly polls or computer formulas that we'll be able to figure on for our educated guesswork. These are people — albeit smart people — whose opinions could be swayed by the individual moments that seem to define every college football season.
For the Big 12, not having a conference title game means less of those moments, and it could hinder their ability to consistently place teams into the CFP. Certainly in years where teams go undefeated in the league and have taken on a worthy non-conference slate, there'll be no doubt, but in years where the field bunches up, it could be a problem.
Of course, the sport itself is cyclical, and if Oklahoma can ride this tidal wave of momentum off their Sugar Bowl victory over the Alabama Crimson Tide and Texas can find their footing quickly under Charlie Strong, you'll have four teams (including Baylor and Oklahoma State) that could make the College Football Playoff in any given year. Add in the occasional greatness of Bill Snyder at Kansas State and what Texas Tech is building toward with Kliff Kingsbury, and you could still very well see this league as a mainstay in whatever the heck you want to call the four teams that get to compete for the title.
However, if the league could manage to get back to 12 teams — whether they poach teams from existing power conferences or find worthy programs in smaller leagues — and add a conference title game, they'd be in even better shape.