Oklahoma got the benefit of the doubt from the College Football Playoff selection committee.
As a result, Texas found itself in a big-time bowl for the first time this decade.
For those two schools and for five other Big 12 bowl representatives, that’s a great start to the postseason. Now come the bowls, the one game (or potentially two for Oklahoma) that could define perception for the season and going forward. If you’re looking for trends, Oklahoma and Texas opened as double-digit betting underdogs.
The Big 12 no longer has a playoff problem. It’s power conferences such as the Big Ten and Pac-12 that have been on the outside looking in for the last two seasons, one reason for the recent cry to consider expanding the playoff beyond four teams.
But a Big 12 perception problem lingers.
The questions about Oklahoma’s defense throughout the season extended to the Big 12 as a whole. Critics during the Heisman debate didn’t credit Big 12 offenses as much as blame defenses they viewed as wet cardboard.
Never mind that Big 12 defenses held opponents to 21 or fewer points in four of last year’s eight bowls. While the Big 12 has gone 9-5 in bowls the last two seasons, old notions die hard.
That said, here’s a quick look at the Big 12’s bowl tests this year.
TCU vs. Cal, Cheez-It Bowl, Dec. 26
Too bad the great Brent Musburger is no longer calling games, so he could tell us a game-winning field goal try is for all the Cheez-Its. By all rights, TCU shouldn’t even be here with the injuries that hit the team and a stretch of six losses in eight games. Both defenses figure to dominate, so give the edge to TCU’s Gary Patterson, who is 10-6 in bowls, over Cal’s rising coaching star Justin Wilcox.
Baylor vs. Vanderbilt, Texas Bowl, Dec. 27
Each team had to win its final game against an in-state rival to get to the postseason, and Vanderbilt’s victory over Tennessee may have saved the job of coach Derek Mason. For Baylor, a five-win increase this season tied for the biggest year-over-year improvement among power conference teams. But will getting to a bowl be enough for the Bears?
West Virginia vs. Syracuse, Camping World Bowl, Dec. 28
The role of Will Grier will get filled by Miami transfer Jack Allison. After lighting up defenses for 3,864 yards passing and 37 touchdowns, Grier decided to skip the bowl and prepare for the NFL draft. His likely replacement is Allison, a 6-5 pro-style quarterback with a strong arm. He’ll need to produce points against Syracuse, which averages 40.8 points a game.
Iowa State vs. Washington State, Alamo Bowl, Dec. 28
Iowa State sold the Alamo Bowl folks on its ability to deliver fans. Can Matt Campbell’s defense shut down Gardner Minshew II and Washington State’s offense? For all his overall success, Washington State’s Mike Leach has lost four of his last five bowls dating to Texas Tech in the Cotton Bowl.
Oklahoma vs. Alabama, Orange Bowl, Dec. 29
The Heisman Revenge Bowl? Look for Alabama, its fans and Nick Saban to seek motivation wherever they can find it in game-planning for Kyler Murray. Each team has health concerns, from Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (ankle) to Oklahoma receiver Marquise Brown (lower leg).
Oklahoma State vs. Missouri, Liberty Bowl, Dec. 31
Let’s see, Oklahoma State is supposed to lose this game, so the Cowboys will cover and most likely win. No team has been as counterintuitive as the Cowboys, who beat Texas and West Virginia, nearly knocked off Oklahoma and still finished 6-6.
Texas vs. Georgia, Sugar Bowl, Jan. 1
Georgia most assuredly didn’t want to be here on Dec. 2 after the CFP announcement. Will the Bulldogs have a different mind-set a month later? Texas coach Tom Herman is probably right when he says the Longhorns are ahead of schedule. The matchup of Texas’ big receivers (Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson) against a Georgia secondary led by Thorpe Award winner Deandre Baker is one of the best in the bowls.
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