A year ago, TCU and Baylor were both within striking distance of making the playoffs late in the season. Both teams had offenses that could not be stopped and could rarely be slowed. The Horned Frogs were one of those rare teams that could run for 200+ yards and pass for 300+ yards per game, while their defense was tough against the run and the pass. Their only blemish was a three-point loss at Baylor, on a field goal on the final play of the game; the Bears were undefeated and ranked number five at the time. Heading into the final week of the regular season, TCU was one of the Final Four teams in the second-to-last selection poll. The Horned Frogs then played Iowa State and won 55-3 in a game that could have been 76-3 had Gary Patterson left his starters in the game. The Frogs amassed more than 700 total yards, apparently wrapping up a playoff bid.
So what happened? Ohio State defeated Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten Championship Game, while Oregon beat Arizona 51-13 in the Pac-12 Championship Game. Defending national champion Florida State barely held off Georgia Tech to win the ACC Championship Game by two points, and at 13-0, the Seminoles basically had to be included in the playoffs, even if they did not appear to be nearly as talented as either Big 12 team. And, then there was Alabama. At 12-1, following an SEC Championship Game blowout of Missouri, and with a lone loss to a then undefeated Ole Miss team in Oxford, there would have been a new Civil War had the Crimson Tide been excluded.
TCU, who at the time was our PiRate Ratings clear number one team at the close of the 2014 regular season did not benefit from having a Big 12 Championship Game to boost their strength of schedule at the end. And, the Horned Frogs actually would have finished behind Baylor in the standings had the two teams been in the same division of a 12-team Big 12, figuring that the schools are in proximity to each other.
In the Peach Bowl, TCU showed the nation who the real best team in the nation was last year. The Horned Frogs blew Ole Miss off the field, winning 42-3 in a game that was out of hand midway through the second quarter.
Baylor was in the driver’s seat for a playoff berth when they came from behind to beat TCU. The Bears were 6-0 and ranked in the top four when they ventured to Morgantown, West Virginia to take on a 4-2 Mountaineers team the following week. Maybe, the Bears overlooked WVU or maybe they were still celebrating their big win the week before, but BU could not get their offense on track against an average WVU defense. The 41-27 loss could not be overcome, even after the Bears knocked off Oklahoma by 34 points. In the Cotton Bowl, Michigan State came from down 20 points in the fourth quarter to beat the Bears 42-41.
The biggest problem the two top Big 12 teams faced last year was strength of schedule. The league plays a nine-game conference schedule with every team playing all the other teams. That leaves just three non-conference games for each team, and most of those non-Big 12 games come against the likes of teams that do not strengthen a resume. Last year, TCU played one slightly above average non-conference foe in Minnesota. Their other two games came against FCS Samford and 1-11 SMU. Baylor’s three non-league foes were SMU, FCS Northwestern State, and Buffalo.
In contrast, Ohio State’s non Big Ten foes were Navy, Virginia Tech, Kent State, and Cincinnati (three bowl teams out of four). Oregon’s non-Pac-12 slate included two clunkers in South Dakota and Wyoming, but the Ducks’ other game came against #7 Michigan St.
Once again, the non-conference schedules for the two league powers are weak, and this could become a factor once again this season. However, as you will see in the final two previews, the top two leagues are so balanced, we do not believe any team will come through those wars unscathed. Therefore, there is a chance that rather than having no team invited to the Playoffs this year, the Big 12 could get two! If the winner of the TCU-Baylor game finishes 12-0, and the loser finishes 11-1, then we believe that the Selection Committee would feel pressured to find some justification that would compel them to take both teams over a two-loss Pac-12 and a two-loss SEC team.
As we have stated previously, the four-team playoff is ridiculous when you have five power conferences. The champions of the ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC should have automatic entries into any postseason playoff. The other 50% of FBS should have some legitimate shot of earning a spot. So, until there is an eight-team playoff, there will always be a deserving team or teams left out. If the SEC is the league that gets jilted this year, that eight-team playoff may become reality sooner than expected.
There are additional quality teams in the Big 12 this year besides TCU and Baylor. Oklahoma returns a bevy of talent and should improve on their 8-5 record from last year. West Virginia, Texas, and Oklahoma State all have enough talent to pull off a major upset and even get into contention in this league. Kansas State always surprises handicappers at least once a year. Texas Tech had a down year in 2014, but they look to be 10 points better this year than last.
The bottom two of this league may be the one liability that makes it hard for two teams to make the playoffs. Iowa State comes off a 2-10 season that included a loss to FCS North Dakota St and an 0-9 conference record. Kansas faces the biggest rebuilding job of the 10 teams, and going backward from 1-8/3-9 forecasts some very long Saturdays in Lawrence before Rock Chalk Jayhawk comes to life indoors in November.
Let’s take a look at the numbers.
Big 12 Media Poll
|Big 12 Conference Media Poll|
Big 12 Media Preseason All-Conference Team
|Big 12 Preseason All-Conference Team|
|Running Back||Shock Linwood||Baylor|
|Running Back||Samaje Perine||Oklahoma|
|Fullback||Glenn Gronkowski||Kansas St.|
|Wide Receiver||Corey Coleman||Baylor|
|Wide Receiver||Sterling Shepard||Oklahoma|
|Wide Receiver||Josh Doctson||TCU|
|Tight End||Tre’Von Armstead||Baylor|
|Offensive Line||Spencer Drango||Baylor|
|Offensive Line||Cody Whitehair||Kansas St.|
|Offensive Line||Joey Hunt||TCU|
|Offensive Line||Halapoulivaati Vaitai||TCU|
|Offensive Line||Le’Raven Clark||Texas Tech|
|Defensive Line||Andrew Billings||Baylor|
|Defensive Line||Shawn Oakman||Baylor|
|Defensive Line||Emmanuel Ogbah||Oklahoma St.|
|Defensive Line||Davion Pierson||TCU|
|Defensive Line||Pete Robertson||Texas Tech|
|Linebacker||Ryan Simmons||Oklahoma St.|
|Linebacker||Nick Kwiatkoski||West Virginia|
|Defensive Back||Orion Stewart||Baylor|
|Defensive Back||Dante Barnett||Kansas St.|
|Defensive Back||Zack Sanchez||Oklahoma|
|Defensive Back||Kevin Peterson||Oklahoma St.|
|Defensive Back||Duke Thomas||Texas|
|Defensive Back||Karl Joseph||West Virginia|
|Punter||Taylor Symmank||Texas Tech|
|Kicker||Josh Lambert||West Virginia|
|Return Specialist||Alex Ross||Oklahoma|
PiRate, Mean, Bias, and Average Ratings
|Big 12 Conference|
PiRate Won-Loss Predictions and Bowl Projections
|PiRate Ratings Predicted Records|
|4||West Virginia||5-4||8-4||Russell Athletic|
Note: The Big 12 will not have eligible teams for the Cactus and Armed Forces Bowls.
Coming Next: The Pac-12 Conference