Big 12 Bowl Projections: Two Big Games Ahead On Saturday

The Big 12 is the one major conference without a championship game on the first Saturday in December, but the conference does have two big games coming up that will settle its automatic BCS bid, with three teams still in the mix, and determine if the league might get an at-large spot in the major bowls.

These games are going to get short shrift when TheSportsNotebook previews the Saturday run of championship games, so to make sure the conference gets its due, let’s take a look now at what’s on tap and how the Big 12 bowl projections are shaping up.

Oklahoma-Oklahoma State (Noon, ABC) is the first game, and the Cowboys can clinch the league’s automatic berth in the Fiesta Bowl with a win. It’s also an outside shot that if both Ohio State and Florida State lose, that Okie State could move past Alabama, into the #2 spot and a national championship game date.

That circumstance would require an Oklahoma State blowout, and there’s every reason to see that coming. The Cowboys are playing at home as a (-9.5) point favorite. They’ve blown out the two other big contenders in the league, Baylor and Texas, by a combined 87-30. Both games were in the month of November, so Oklahoma State is peaking at the right time.

By contrast, Oklahoma lost to both Baylor and Texas, and by a combined 77-32. While Cowboy quarterback Clint Chelf seems to be coming into his own down the stretch, Sooner counterpart Blake Bell has struggled, and though he’s expected to play Saturday, is dealing with a concussion. Oklahoma’s defense, the strength of the team early, not only played poorly against the contenders, but gave up 31 points in a win last week to Kansas State.

When you put all this together, that point spread actually seems a little short. The history of this rivalry is Oklahoma consistently winning, but the vast majority of those instances saw the Sooners with a significantly better team.

There were instances of Oklahoma State getting its heart ripped out, to be sure. But in 2011, the Cowboys had the better team, home field and a Fiesta Bowl bid on the line, and they won decisively. That’s the one instance under the current leadership of head coach Mike Gundy that we have to go on, and that’s why I think it’s Okie State decisively on Saturday.

No matter what happens in Stillwater, the winner of Texas-Baylor (3:30 PM ET, Fox) stands to claim a piece of the Big 12 hardware. If Oklahoma State were to lose, then the winner of this game ends up as the league’s outright champ and in the Fiesta Bowl themselves.

Baylor is a hefty (-15) favorite at home, and has running back Lache Seastrunk healthy, but it’s fair to wonder if the Bears peaked too early. After taking a 49-17 pounding from Oklahoma State a couple weeks ago, Baylor struggled past a bad TCU team, 41-38 last Saturday.

Texas has done an admirable job rallying around Mack Brown when his job came under fire after two early non-conference losses. The rumors circulating around other coaching names–from Nick Saban to Gus Malzahn–suggest that Brown is going to be out no matter what. But the team’s turnaround tells you the team will compete for him. I don’t think it will be enough to win in Waco, but it will be closer than Las Vegas is expecting.

Thus, the race for the BCS spot is simple–it’s Oklahoma State’s with a win, otherwise it’s winner-take-all from Waco.

The Big 12 bowl projections are broken into two different groups. The first one is how it will break down if the conference gets two teams in the BCS–something that likely presumes Oklahoma State and Baylor both winning, and then a few reasonable circumstances falling right for the Bears. These were discussed earlier in the week in our BCS bowl projections. The second set of projections assumes no at-large bid.

BCS Automatic: Oklahoma State (Fiesta, vs. Central Florida)
BCS At-Large: Baylor (Orange, vs. Clemson)
Cotton: Texas (vs. LSU)
Alamo: Oklahoma (vs. Oregon)
Buffalo Wild Wings: Texas Tech (vs. Nebraska)
Holiday: Kansas State (vs. Stanford/Arizona State loser)
Meineke Car Care: No eligible team (vs. Minnesota)
Pinstripe: No eligible team (vs. Notre Dame or Houston)

BCS Automatic
: Oklahoma State (Fiesta, vs. Central Florida)
Cotton: Baylor (vs. LSU)
Alamo: Oklahoma (vs. Oregon)
Buffalo Wild Wings: Texas (vs. Nebraska)
Holiday: Kansas State (vs. Stanford/Arizona State loser)
Meineke Car Care: Texas Tech (vs. Minnesota)
Pinstripe: No eligible team (vs. Notre Dame or Houston)

Beyond the Big 12 teams listed, no one else finished higher than 4-8, so the conference is leaving at least one of its contracted spots unclaimed, and perhaps two. With the ACC having 11 teams eligible, there won’t be a problem for the bowls getting these spots filled. Please also note that the Pinstripe has a three-way set of commitments and might well have opted for Notre Dame-Houston even if the Big 12 had produced an eligible team.

If you raised an eyebrow at a couple inconsistencies in the lower-tier bowls, you’re a careful observer, and let me explain. Texas played in the Alamo Bowl last year, which is why I project that bowl picking Oklahoma even if the Longhorns were available.

I also had Texas Tech ahead of Kansas State in the first set of projections when it was the Buffalo Wild Wings game doing the picking. That game is based on Texas. But I would consider Kansas State the more attractive team, so if the Holiday–played in San Diego–does the picking, then I’m projecting the Wildcats.

This would potentially create a Texas Tech-Minnesota rematch in the Meineke Car Care, which is obviously not desirable for any of the parties, but depending on how things break in both conferences (Big Ten bowl projections ran on Tuesday), the bowl wouldn’t have any other choice. It would be nice if the Meineke & Holiday would coordinate their selections, but we know from experience that the bowls don’t believe in teamwork.