Now that we know the Big 12 will not have divisions next year when the 10-team conference resumes playing a conference title game, let’s take a quick stroll down memory lane.
The Big 12 is content to have its No. 1 and No. 2 teams play in the revived conference title game. But what would that have meant for the 2011-15 seasons? In 2013, it would have meant chaos. Here’s a look back at which teams would’ve made the title game and their BCS/CFP rankings going into that hypothetical game:
2011: No. 3 Oklahoma State vs. No. 8 Kansas State
A rematch of a 52-45 Oklahoma State victory in Stillwater from early November. Remember, this was the Alabama-LSU year. It might be hard to picture the BCS rankings moving the Cowboys into the national title game had they defeated K-State again. But Oklahoma State was only .0086 behind Alabama for the No. 2 spot. What if another win over a top-10 foe would have pushed the Cowboys ahead? This might have been one year where a Big 12 title game really could’ve helped.
2012: No. 5 Kansas State vs. No. 11 Oklahoma
The co-champions both received a Big 12 championship trophy in 2012. This conference title game would’ve broken that tie, but it also would have been a rematch of Kansas State’s 24-19 upset win in Norman from late September. This rematch doesn’t have much impact other than potentially flipping which team goes to the Fiesta Bowl and which one gets destroyed by Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.
2013: No. 6 Baylor vs. No. 11 Oklahoma
This is going to get a little confusing, so buckle up. Let’s start this scenario off by using the Big 12’s current tiebreaker plan, since we’re trying to see what past results would mean today.
In 2013, Baylor was the one true champ with an 8-1 Big 12 record. There was a three-way tie for second place when Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas all went 7-2. They were all tied up because, on the final Saturday of the regular season, Oklahoma upset Oklahoma State and Baylor beat Texas.
If this happened next year, how would the Big 12 settle its three-team tie? Let’s go step by step:
Compare the conference records against each other. OU lost to Texas and beat OSU. OSU beat Texas and lost to OU. Texas beat OU and lost to OSU. No tiebreaker there.
Compare the conference records against the “next-highest placed team” in the conference: Kansas State (5-4). All three teams beat K-State. No tiebreaker there.
Scoring differential among the tied teams. The team with the lowest differential between points scored and points allowed gets eliminated for the race. OU was minus-16 vs. Texas and plus-9 vs. OSU for a differential of minus-7. OSU was minus-9 vs. OU and plus-25 vs. Texas for a differential of plus-16. Texas was plus-16 vs. OU and minus-25 vs. OSU for a differential of minus-9. Texas is eliminated.
Head-to-head: Oklahoma State had the best point differential of the three, but Oklahoma goes into the Big 12 title game because it won the Bedlam head-to-head.
There’s a problem that scenario presents if it were to play out again in the future (and it certainly could), and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby realized it a year ago while working on the revised tiebreaker.
“There’s probably a little bit of apprehension about scoring differential because theoretically it could contribute to running up the score,” Bowlsby said in 2015. “But I just think when you get down to that level, there aren’t a lot of real good ways to break the tie and this is probably as good as any.”
If this tiebreaker and the 1 vs. 2 Big 12 title game had been in place on Dec. 7, 2013, all four teams -- Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and Texas -- would’ve known going in that point differential could be the difference. This would have affected how those teams played those pivotal games.
But that’s not the craziest thing. Because let’s not forget how Bedlam ended in 2013. Oklahoma took a 27-24 lead in the final 20 seconds. If the final score of that game is 27-24, OU’s tiebreaker point differential is minus-13, which is worse than Texas’ minus-9, and the Sooners get eliminated from contention. This gives Oklahoma State the Big 12 title game spot thanks to its win over Texas.
But that wasn’t the final score. On the final play of the game, Oklahoma State ran a desperation lateral play and goofed up. The backwards throw to QB Clint Chelf was errant and Eric Striker scooped the ball up and scored for a 33-24 victory. In this tiebreaker scenario, that play gives OU the spot in the Big 12 title game.
So let’s put it this way: If Oklahoma State, down 27-24 against its hated rival, had instead sent Chelf out to take a knee and take the Bedlam loss, the Cowboys make the Big 12 title game.
The Big 12 had better hope it doesn't have to deal with another three-way tie like this in the next few years.
2014: No. 5 Baylor vs. No. 6 TCU
Considering how much the fan bases hated each other in 2014 and how much they argued about Baylor’s 61-58 win and their resumes that season, a rematch would’ve been crazy fun to watch. But does the winner get into the College Football Playoff? That depends on how the inaugural playoff committee values that 13th data point. No matter who wins, does the committee consider the accomplishment more impressive than Ohio State’s 59-0 win over Wisconsin with a third-string quarterback? My guess: Probably not.
2015: No. 4 Oklahoma vs. No. 16 Oklahoma State
Oklahoma State gets the No. 2 spot over TCU based on its head-to-head win. This rematch is a clear example of why 1 vs. 2 in the Big 12 title game won’t be ideal in some years. Oklahoma won Bedlam 58-23 last November against a Cowboys team missing injured QB Mason Rudolph. Playing Bedlam again a week later at a neutral site doesn’t really help anybody. And if the Sooners somehow lose the rematch, the Big 12 has no playoff team. But at least this extra game would make the Big 12 more money.