TCU, Oklahoma give Big 12 College Football Playoff hope

The Big 12 had already staged its most important games of the season before Saturday: Oklahoma, TCU and Oklahoma State all faced one another prior to Week 12, most recently a 38–20 Sooners win over the Horned Frogs in Norman last week that left Oklahoma alone atop the standings with one loss. But the conference still managed to advance its odds for a College Football Playoff berth.

The Sooners, who entered the weekend fourth in the committee’s latest rankings, blasted cellar-dweller Kansas, 41–3, in Lawrence. In doing so, they clinched a spot in the league title game, which will be held on Dec. 2 at AT&T Stadium. Oklahoma should maintain its place in the top four heading into December if it handles West Virginia next week.

Meanwhile, TCU (No. 12) bounced back from its loss to the Sooners by stomping Texas Tech, 27–3. That win all but locks up a spot for the Horned Frogs in the conference championship bout. They’ll close the regular season on Friday with a visit from lowly Baylor, whose only win against league competition this season came against the Jayhawks. A win over the Bears would seal a meeting with the Sooners in Jerry World. An (extremely unlikely upset) would make things more complicated, dropping the Frogs down into a group of four teams that will take three conference losses into Week 13.

Elsewhere, two other outfits that entered Saturday hoping to keep their conference title hopes intact (while also hoping for a Horned Frogs slip-up) suffered surprising defeats at home. West Virginia was shut out in the first half of a 14-point loss to Texas, and Oklahoma State could not recover from a 29-point second-half deficit it created by yielding four unanswered touchdowns in a 45–40 loss to a Kansas State team that clinched bowl eligibility.

The results had the effect of pushing the two top teams in the Big 12 one step closer to the playoff. Oklahoma is the conference’s best bet for a bid, and it should get one if it can beat TCU again. The Sooners would be 12–1, with the lone defeat to a bowl-bound team (Iowa State), a marquee nonconference win (at Ohio State) and a conference title. It’s difficult to imagine four squads having stronger bodies of work when the field is selected on Dec. 3.

But the Big 12 may be able to sneak into the playoff even if Oklahoma can’t take out TCU. The Horned Frogs have been largely dismissed in the scenario speculation that takes place during the final month-plus of the season, but they could have a shot if they win out.

Although a two-loss team has never qualified for the national semifinals before, consider what TCU would have going for it. The Horned Frogs would have wins over at least six teams with .500 records or better, a league championship and a marquee victory over the Sooners at an opportune time. TCU would need some help, but several of the teams the committee currently has pegged above it are guaranteed to lose in the next two weeks. With so little separation between the squads at the top of the rankings, a chaotic conclusion is definitely in play.

Even if the Horned Frogs ultimately fall short, the Big 12 emerged from Saturday in a good position. Its two best teams avoided damaging upsets to stay in contention for playoff spots.

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