If the inaugural College Football Playoff teams were locked in to play in the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl right now, Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn, and Oregon would be the teams whose tickets would be getting punched.
Well thankfully for three Big XII teams (and every other team trying to claw its way into the projections), the Playoff begins in 56 days, so there’s still a decent amount of time to make a run.
The Big XII has been vastly underrated in years past, despite numerous teams advancing and excelling in the previous BCS system. This is a conference where dynasties fly high for about two to three years, tops, then reluctantly hand the reigns over to another team that goes on a heater.
This season, the conference stars are the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs (7-1 overall, 4-1 in conference), Kansas State Wildcats (7-1; 5-0), and Baylor Bears (7-1; 4-1).
In my opinion, TCU — who joined the Big XII in 2012 — is the dominant team in the conference currently, and that’s largely due to its massive transformation from 2013, to now. Last season, the Horned Frogs — under 13-year head coach Gary Patterson — finished 4-8 overall, and 2-7 in-conference. And considering their only loss of 2014 was a 61-58 shootout in Ft. Worth against Baylor on Oct. 11, I’d say they’ve come a long way compared to the team that lost 20-10 in Lubbock last year against the No. 24 ranked Red Raiders.
One thing Patterson did take away from that game, was a heightened intrigue in offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie. Following the end of the season, TCU must have made one handsome offer to the Texas Tech alum, because he accepted and it definitely shows. Since joining Patterson, Cumbie has guided TCU’s offense, one that is now ranked No. 9 in the nation in passing, averaging 335.9 yards-per-game and putting up an average of 214.1 yards rushing.
When a team is producing multiple 500+ all purpose yardage games, it’s hard to leave it out of national discussion, and the College Football Playoff Selection Committee has definitely taken notice, as TCU is No. 6 on the Playoff poll — up one spot from last week.
While the No. 7 ranked Kansas State Wildcats have improved since last year, 2013 was a good year for head coach Bill Snyder, whose team finished 8-5 and 5-4 in-conference, plus a 31-14 win in the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl over Michigan.
One of its 2013 wins was settled by a three point margin at home against TCU, so don’t be surprised if you catch the Horned Frogs playing with vengeance as they host the Wildcats this Saturday.
Much like TCU, the Wildcats also moved up in the Playoff poll, jumping from No. 9, to No. 7. But whoever wins between the two this weekend, will likely cause a nice little shakeup in the standings, so if you can, make sure you tune in.
Everyone is looking at Baylor to either do something substantial to cement its legacy, or to pass the reigns as previously discussed.
In 2011, Robert Griffin III took home the prestigious Heisman Trophy and solidified his place in Baylor history as its first Heisman winner. But despite finishing 10-3 overall, Baylor played Washington in the Alamo Bowl, where the Bears would win, 67-56. The following season under new quarterback Bryce Petty, Baylor finished 8-3 and beat UCLA in the Holliday Bowl. But in 2013 when they finally made it to a BCS Bowl game in the finale of BCS Bowl games, Baylor lost to the UCF Bulls in the Fiesta Bowl, 42-52. Petty and co. were favored to win by 16.5 points.
To the analysts who are examining why Baylor is ranked No. 12 in the Playoff poll, the past is likely playing a role despite averaging around 50 points-per-game as the nation’s top ranked offense. Another factor is a weak non-conference schedule highlighted by blowout wins at Southern Methodist and Buffalo, and a 70-6 win over FCS Division-1, Northwestern State. Of course, the same argument of weak scheduling can be (and is) made against some of the SEC teams, but SEC domination in the BCS era carried over to the College Football Playoff system, and teams know that.
Of the three teams who are leading the Big XII conference right now, the one with the most likely shot at playing in one of the Playoff games is TCU. But with unranked Kansas, Texas, and Iowa State to finish out the regular season, they are going to have to put up some major numbers against Kansas to prove they can hang with some of the heavyweight veterans in the southeast.
*Section Photo credit to Ronald Martinez, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Steve Wade, Rattle and Hum Sports