DES MOINES, Iowa — The Big 12 has been as entertaining as any league in the country.
All that fun might come with a price.
Recent upsets like West Virginia beating Baylor and Kansas State surprising Oklahoma have made the conference impossible to ignore — at least during the regular season. They might also cost the Big 12 a spot in the inaugural College Football Playoff.
“There’s just not any one week where you can actually feel surprised by the outcome,” Baylor coach Art Briles said.
It’s a trend that’s done significant damage to the CFP hopes of the Big 12’s top contenders.
The Sooners, the preseason favorites, have two losses. Baylor already has a loss and a trip to Oklahoma on Nov. 8.
League-leading Kansas State has one loss — to No. 5 Auburn — and it’s now ranked 11th in the country. But the Wildcats (5-1, 3-0 Big 12) still have to play No. 10 TCU and No. 12 Baylor on the road. The Horned Frogs (5-1, 2-1) lost at Baylor in a wild shootout, but they have to survive a trip to West Virginia.
It appears as though parity is at its peak in the Big 12. That might not be a good thing in a four-team playoff era.
“Each week things get shaken up,” Kansas interim coach Clint Bowen said. “Every week it’s a battle.”
TCU hosts Texas Tech (3-4, 1-3) this weekend, followed by a crucial road game against the 22nd-ranked Mountaineers (5-2, 3-1). If they can get past West Virginia — and that’s a big if given how well the Mountaineers have been playing — they should be favored in each of their final four games.
There are just three unbeaten power conference teams left, and Ole Miss and Mississippi State still have to play each other. So a one-loss TCU team would likely get a look from the CFP selection committee.
Coach Gary Patterson knows better than to look ahead.
“In this league, you just need to hold onto your hat,” he said. “For us, if there’s anything we’ve learned in the last few weeks is you’ve got to keep your nose down and understand that everyone can play.”
After playing Oklahoma, Baylor (6-1, 3-1) finishes the season by hosting Kansas State and then Oklahoma State on Nov. 22. For now, the Bears will host struggling Kansas (2-5, 0-4) on Saturday. Oklahoma has the week off before playing at Iowa State (2-5, 0-4).
“Every team is good. If you make a mistake or two, you’re going to be on the wrong end of it. Everybody’s got talented players. But the league’s full of good coaches. It’s a challenge every week,” Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said.
Kansas State’s home loss to Auburn, now ranked 5th, looks better with each passing week. But the Wildcats might still need to finish the second half of the season undefeated to earn CFP consideration, and their schedule is loaded.
Kansas State finishes the year with trips to TCU, West Virginia and Baylor sandwiched around a rivalry game with Kansas. The Wildcats (6-1, 3-0) host hard-to-figure Texas (3-4, 2-2) on Saturday.
A loss to the Longhorns could doom K-State’s playoff hopes. But coach Bill Snyder is more concerned with beating Texas than worrying about the possible ramifications of a loss.
“I have absolutely no idea. All we hear about is the final four, so to speak, and that’s the last thing, I think, on most coaches’ minds. I think everybody is trying to fight week by week,” Snyder said when asked if a two-loss Big 12 team might still make the playoffs. “I don’t think about it.”