DES MOINES, Iowa – The final weekend in the Big 12 will illustrate both the risk and reward that come with the league's decision to do away with its title game.
The lack of a championship game might not always work out for the Big 12 in the playoff era.
This year, it could help push Baylor and TCU into the final four.
While the rest of the nation's top playoff contenders face title-game showdowns — or elimination games, depending on how they play — the Big 12 wraps up its regular season with three games that are part of its round-robin schedule with 10 teams.
No. 5 Baylor (10-1, 7-1 Big 12), which was 7th in last week's playoff standings, will get one more chance to boost its resume when it hosts No. 9 Kansas State (9-2, 7-1) on Saturday. No. 4 TCU (10-1, 7-1) entertains woeful Iowa State (2-9, 0-8), while No. 18 Oklahoma (8-3, 5-3) and Oklahoma State (5-6, 3-5) tangle in Norman.
"I think the fact of the matter is there will be some years, like this one, where we feel just great about where we are. And there will be other years where we'll say 'Gee, we wish we had one more game to play because we might be able to differentiate ourselves," Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said.
The Big 12 hasn't had a team compete in the national title game since Texas lost to Alabama following the 2009 season. TCU and Baylor each appear to have shots at ending that streak — partly because they don't face the possibility of a rematch in a league title game.
The team ahead of the fifth-ranked Horned Frogs in last week's playoff rankings, Mississippi State, lost at Ole Miss and finished the regular season with two losses.
The team behind TCU, Ohio State, beat Michigan. The Buckeyes also lost star quarterback J.T. Barrett for the year with an ankle injury.
But TCU is almost in a no-win situation on Saturday by playing the struggling Cyclones instead of a fellow championship contender.
The Horned Frogs are expected to blow out Iowa State. But if they struggle like they did against Kansas a few weeks back, the committee might have a reason to re-examine its resume.
That's why Iowa State coach Paul Rhoads is preparing to face a team looking for all the style points it can earn.
"They don't want to leave any doubt in any member of the selection committee that they deserve to be in the top four," Rhoads said. "We've seen all the tape. There's no question they belong in the final four. But they'll be going out to leave no doubts in anybody's minds."
Baylor will benefit from the Mississippi State loss and the uncertainty with the Buckeyes quarterback situation as well.
The Bears also beat TCU head to head — and a win over K-State would arguably be as impressive as anything Alabama, Oregon and Florida State could pull off this weekend.
"It is what it is. I'm proud to be in the Big 12 conference," Baylor said Art Briles said of the league's lack of a title game. "I think we're doing it the right way."
Bowlsby said the league's round-robin schedule means that teams have to go through everyone in the league to win the championship — and he added that the NCAA doesn't allow 10-team leagues to play a title game anyway.
This year, that looks like a good thing for the league.
"We like playing everybody," Bowlsby said. "There may be years in the future where our teams carve each other up and our champion is going to have three losses in the league. At that point, it's going to be very difficult to access the playoff. So, I think we're always looking to gather as much information as we can and make decisions in light of modern circumstances. But there's going to years when it's great, and there's going to be years when it isn't."
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