Big 12 Bowl Projections

The Big 12 may be out of the national championship picture with Kansas State’s shocking 52-24 loss at Baylor on Saturday night. But the game underscored just how good this league is from top to bottom and both its conference title race and bowl picture are very much up in the air with two weeks to play. There’s a Fiesta Bowl bid on the line, a possible at-large slot in the BCS and a host of quality bowls against Pac-12 & Big Ten competition mixed in. Today we’ll try and sort out some Big 12 bowl projections.

Let’s start by breaking the conference into three tiers—well, actually four. Kansas is in last place, a tier unto itself, but the other nine teams are all either clinched for bowls or have eligibility in their grasp. Here’s how those nine break down, with league records in parentheses…

Kansas State 10-1 (7-1)
Oklahoma 8-2 (6-1)
Texas 8-2 (5-2)
Oklahoma State 7-3 (5-2)

These four teams are in position for at least a piece of the league championship. Oklahoma State plays Oklahoma on Saturday, while Texas goes to Kansas State the following week. If the underdogs win those games—not something that we would predict, but a lot less surprising than some other events we’ve seen around the country in recent weeks—then you have the potential for a four-way crackup at the top.

Texas Tech 7-4 (4-4)
TCU 6-4 (3-4)
Iowa State 6-5 (3-5)

These three teams realistically don’t have a ton to play for in the last two weeks. There’s no shot at a conference title, nor at the top-tier bowl bids, but all three will be playing football somewhere after the regular season ends. Let’s note that TCU is the huge spoiler right now—they play Texas on Thanksgiving night and Oklahoma in the finale, so the Horned Frogs can spoil someone’s championship or major bowl push.

West Virginia 5-5 (2-5)
Baylor 5-5 (2-5)

The two programs that set the cause of defense back for decades when they played a 70-63 game earlier in the year each need one more win to qualify for a bowl. West Virginia goes to Iowa State on Black Friday, but even if they come up short there, a home game with Kansas on December 1 is the Mountaineers’ hole card. Baylor’s road is tougher—they go to Texas Tech this Saturday and then play Oklahoma State. The odds? Difficult, not impossible, as Rocco Lampone said in Godfather II regarding the task of assassinating Hyman Roth at the airport (I’m already in gear for the Thanksgiving viewing of The Godfather, surely as much a tradition as football).

I think it’s safe to say West Virginia will get one more win and the Big 12 will have at least eight teams set for postseason play, with Baylor being the swing vote. The conference is committed to eight bowls, but if they get a second bid to a BCS game, that means either Baylor qualifies or a bid is left to be filled by a midmajor team.

We’ve covered the basic scenario for the conference championship race and TCU’s potential spoiler role. All the possible scenarios go out the window of Kansas State beats Texas and clinches the title outright. The Wildcats have this week off to lick their emotional wounds, get Collin Klein fully healthy and figure out what happened to John Hubert and the running game. K-State is also at home for the December 1 finale. Against this, we have Texas and its explosive offense led by David Ash, and the hopes that a talented defense can finally play to its potential. We can probably also assume that UT has more raw talent, given where these programs traditionally rank in recruiting.

If Texas does win, then Oklahoma has a clean crack at an outright league title. The Sooners are already in position to clinch a share of the crown if they beat Oklahoma State on Saturday and then win at TCU. If the situation ends up in a messy three or four-way tie, we could devote an entire article to all the breakdowns. For now, we’ll focus on the fact that Kansas State is in good position, with head-to-head wins against Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. If it’s a tie where head-to-head games can’t settle it,  then the Fiesta gets the highest-ranked team in the BCS. The Wildcats are sitting at #6. While they would obviously fall with a loss, this whole crackup scenario also assumes Oklahoma—currently 13th—also loses.

Thus, the question would come down to whether Texas—at #16—could shoot up high enough to pass K-State. Oklahoma State at #21 would be out in the cold. The Cowboys have also lost to Texas and Kansas State head-to-head, so while Okie State can get a piece of league hardware—a significant accomplishment—they won’t get the Fiesta Bowl slot.

Now let’s move on the question of at-large BCS consideration. You can take a look at the BCS bowl projections we did yesterday for complete discussion of this, and the national championship scenarios. I think the Big 12’s at-large situation is pretty straightforward—they need Clemson to lose to South Carolina and open up a slot. The slot would most naturally be filled by Oklahoma (presuming Kansas State wins and takes the Big 12 crown) and certainly a 10-2 Texas team would be attractive to the Sugar. But right now I think it likely that the Big 12 is out in the cold when it comes to a second bid, with Clemson and Oregon holding inside tracks to the available at-larges (there are four total, but Notre Dame and an SEC team are mortal locks).

The good news for Big 12 runner-ups is that this conference’s first two bids after the BCS is done picking after the Cotton and Alamo. The former gets you a game with a top SEC West team (LSU or Texas A&M this year) and the latter gets you the best available team out of the Pac-12 after the BCS is done picking (probably Stanford or UCLA, possibly Oregon State). I’m sure the Cotton would be thrilled to have Oklahoma, and would certainly see Texas as a quality choice. If the Big 12 gets a second BCS slot, it creates room for Oklahoma State to move up with one more win (the Cowboys play at Baylor on December 1, in addition to the OU game). Texas Tech and TCU are both four-loss teams that could play their way into the Alamo by winning out, but we noted the Horned Frogs schedule difficulty, and Tech isn’t playing well.

Our next stage of bowl assignment gives us the Buffalo Wild Wings, Holiday and  Meineke Car Care games. The first and third of these is against the Big Ten (that league’s fifth and sixth place teams), and the Holiday goes against the best Pac-12 team that was passed over by the Alamo. At worst, Oklahoma State will end up in one of these games, and Iowa State could also play their way in if they beat West Virginia. One thing to note is that the Big Ten will be hurting to supply teams at this level—the probations of Ohio State and Penn State are pushing the conference up against it and right now they only have five eligible teams. If Michigan State or Purdue don’t win on Saturday, the league can’t fill its Meineke slot.

The Big 12’s last two bids are the New Era Pinstripe game in Yankee Stadium, against the fourth-place team from the Big East and the Heart of Dallas Bowl against what should be a Big Ten team. I say “should” because if both Michigan State or Purdue lose, it means the slot is open to a team like WAC runner-up Louisiana Tech (who’s a better team anyway). The likely opponent in New York is Syracuse. As far as the Big 12 goes, if they get an at-large BCS spot then Baylor must get eligible for the fill league to fill its Heart of Dallas spot. If no at-large spot is coming, then you can pencil in either Iowa State or West Virginia for these games.

I think the odds are against the conference getting a second BCS slot, because while Clemson or Oregon can certainly lose, the Big 12’s teams have tough games themselves. So for the sake of these projections, I’m assuming only the league champ will make it. Here’s the Big 12 bowl projections  with two weeks to go…

Fiesta: Kansas State-Oregon
Cotton: Oklahoma-Texas A&M
Alamo: Texas-Stanford
Buffalo Wild Wings: Oklahoma State-Michigan State
Holiday: Texas Tech-Oregon State
Meineke Car Care: TCU-Minnesota
New Era Pinstripe: West Virginia-Syracuse
The Heart Of Dallas: Baylor-Louisiana Tech
*Note that this leaves Iowa State as a free agent and able to fill slots that the probations in the Big Ten & ACC leave on the table.