College Sports: How will cannibalization hurt the Big 12 in the first College Football Playoff rankings, moving forward? 

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The only College Football Playoff ranking that matters won’t be released until Dec. 3. 

Although the first rankings are more a practice test than anything set in stone, expect plenty of interest when the first playoff rankings are unveiled by ESPN on Halloween. The Big 12 won’t be the only conference watching with angst, either. 

Already, there are two apocalyptic scenarios in play. There’s a very good chance that SEC members Alabama and Georgia will both be in the top four, and possibly 1-2, as they are in the AP and coaches poll. Then add the Notre Dame factor. If the once-beaten Irish are somehow in or near the top four of the CFP rankings, things could get messy. 

In the game of playoff musical chairs, that would mean not just one power conference excluded but as many as three. It wouldn’t be just the Big 12’s problem. 

Commissioner Bob Bowlsby isn’t panicking about doomsday possibilities. 

“At this point last year, we had a lot of scenarios in play,” Bowlsby said last week. “We still have a lot of scenarios in play.” 

Each year has their early aberrations. In 2016, Texas A&M was fourth in the first CFP rankings and a non-factor at the end. 

But the what-ifs involving Georgia and Notre Dame could be in play for a while. 

As for the Big 12, things changed with TCU’s loss to surging Iowa State, now No. 14 in the AP poll.

“We’ve still got a chance to play for a Big 12 title. Does it hurt our chances for the playoff? Probably,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said Saturday. At the very least, No. 10 TCU lost its margin for error with the loss. 

The Big 12 no longer has an unbeaten CFP contender and improbably a four-way atop the conference heading into November with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, TCU and Iowa State with one league loss. Only Iowa State has one more than one loss overall but there will be plenty of opportunities for cannibalization this month among the contenders, beginning with Saturday’s Bedlam meeting in Stillwater between Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. 

“A 12-1 Big 12 champion has got a shot at the playoffs,” CBS Sports playoff analyst Jerry Palm said on a video update, “but with so many games left among the top four teams that may not actually happen.” 

Here’s a key stat to file away: In the first three years of the College Football Playoff, three unbeaten teams and nine one-loss teams have made the field, but no teams with two or more losses.
Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley tried to put the best face on the next month in the Big 12. 

“It’s going to be great,” Riley said. “It’s ready to be championship November and that’s our favorite time of year around here. We’re excited about it. The conference is really darn good – it’s the best conference in football right now top to bottom and you see it.” 

The one problem: a great top-to-bottom conference may not be the best way to send a team to the playoff. 

Regardless of their shelf life, count Bowlsby among those taking notice of the first rankings. 

“I think we always pay attention to it,” Bowlsby said. “How else would we engage in all the arguments people are having?”

Three takeaways and lookaheads from this week in the Big 12: 

Expect even more focus on Bedlam with both teams ranked in the top 11. ESPN’s College GameDay is headed Saturday to Stillwater for the sixth time. Oklahoma has won 12 of the last 14 meetings, although Oklahoma State has two victories this decade. 

Texas players can expect to hear a lot of questions this week about Saturday’s game at TCU. The Horned Frogs have won the last three meetings by a combined total of 129-26. 

Baylor’s best chance for a win arrives. Off to its first 0-8 start in 48 years, the Bears visit Kansas (1-7), which has been outscored by an average of 33.2 points a game in its five Big 12 losses.

Twitter: @ChuckCarltonDMN

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