The Big 12? Playoff-bound? Like the last five years, Lincoln Riley's not ruling it out

John. E. Hoover

It’s all on Texas. Or maybe Oklahoma State.

As October draws near, the perception is that those teams — both 2-0, even if their perfection is shaky — are the Big 12 Conference’s two best options for earning a bid to the College Football Playoff.

Unless, of course, playoff resident Oklahoma can win the rest of its games.

Other than that, this uneven season of COVID seems likely to leave the Big 12 — still the only Power 5 conference without a playoff victory — on the outside looking in.

“Oh, I’ve heard the same thing for all five years I’ve been here at OU,” Sooner coach Lincoln Riley said Monday on the Big 12 teleconference. “And we’ve been it it.”

He’s right. Whether it was a midseason loss to Texas in 2015, or defeats to Houston and Ohio State in 2016, or a stunner at home to Iowa State in 2017, or another loss to Texas in 2018, or the upset at Kansas State in 2019, Oklahoma has been written out of the playoff talk early in each of Riley’s five seasons, only to rally back and make the field.

The only time the Sooners were omitted from the final four, of course, was the year they lost twice.

So mathematically, historically, if Oklahoma finishes 2020 with just one loss — which would mean beating Texas and Oklahoma State and then winning the Big 12 title game in December — the Sooners will be in the discussion for a playoff spot.

The real question then, is a little harder to answer: is this Oklahoma team capable of going 10-1 and getting back to the playoff? Or, possibly, taking the next step and winning a game — or even a national championship?

Not if they play like they did in Saturday’s 38-35 loss to Kansas State. That OU team — favored by 28 points before kickoff — looks more likely to finish 6-4 than it does to get back to the playoff.

Another harsh reality: the Big 12's laborious efforts in non-conference play did the league no favors. When the CFP selection committee goes to choose its finalists, they'll remember Iowa State's loss to Louisiana, and Kansas State's loss to Arkansas State, and Kansas' loss to Coastal Carolina, and Texas Tech's 2-point escape from Houston Baptist, and Oklahoma State's tight win against Tulsa.

The Big 12 left a bad impression right out of the gate in 2020, and all the league has left is to fight it out amongst themselves. How would the committee evaluate that?

“That’s just what people have to talk about right now,” Riley said. “This is gonna be a little bit of a crazy season — like they all are. It’s gonna be about teams that win, teams in quality conferences that win.

“And like we have four of the last five years, if we have a team in this conference that wins and takes care of business, they’re gonna be in the College Football Playoff.”

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