Remember when the Big 12 was the brunt of all those recent jokes about its perceived football weaknesses.
The pundits aren’t laughing anymore after the release of the second College Football Rankings Tuesday night.
Oklahoma remains No. 5, just behind the top four teams in the country.
TCU lurks just behind the Sooners at No. 6, raising the stakes for Saturday’s game between them. It makes their game the most intriguing of the three games involving two top-10 teams set for this week.
Both Big 12 teams rank above unbeaten teams Miami and Wisconsin. They are also ahead of No. 9 Washington, which at 8-1 is the highest ranked of the Pac-12 teams.
It appears if either Big 12 team can run the table, they should be a CFP lock. That enables them to make the conference’s first CFP trip since 2015 and perhaps garnering the conference’s elusive first CFP triumph.
They need somebody in front of them to lose. Preferably it needs to be another other than either Georgia or Alabama in the SEC championship game. An unbeaten epic SEC title game will have apologists for the conference repeating the “it just means more” slogan ad nauseam.
But if November has taught us anything over the years, the next few weeks will be a time for stunning upsets that might be hard to fathom now.
Does Oklahoma’s defense hurt the Sooners’ perception?
One of the biggest questions continues to be an Oklahoma team that leads the nation in total offense and is third in total defense but ranks 75 th in total defense and 87 th in scoring defense.
Despite that wide disparity, CFP chairman Kirby Hocutt said the committee takes a critical deep look at the 8-1 Sooners each week.
“We study their complete body of work, their resumé on both sides of the ball, the kicking game,” said Hocutt, who worked as an assistant athletic director at Oklahoma earlier in his career before his current post as athletic director at Texas Tech.
Hocutt said the Sooners’ strongest selling point remains road victories over No. 13 Ohio State and No. 15 Oklahoma State. He calls those games “the best pair of wins probably this year on the road.”
The committee also appears to have noticed Oklahoma’s key defensive stops late in the game against Oklahoma State with a makeshift secondary featuring three freshmen.
“Their defense got the stops they needed to get last week,” Hocutt said. “We talk about the team, we don’t necessarily get into breaking down the defense. Obviously, we’re aware of their defensive efficiencies and productions, and obviously Oklahoma on offense is at the highest end. Their defense is not quite at that same level. But as a team, we believe they’re the No. 5 team in the country.”
Narrowing gap between Clemson and Oklahoma/TCU
And it appears the gap between the two Big 12 teams and No. 4 Clemson might not be insurmountable, according to Hocutt.
“I think I said the difference between teams four through seven in last week’s ranking was very narrow and close,” Hocutt said. “I would classify that similar for teams, 4, 5, 6, maybe 7 this week. It was a close margin of separation in that range of teams within our rankings.”
Other Big 12 contenders drop after losses
Oklahoma State wasn’t punished as much as might have been expected after their 62-52 Bedlam loss to Oklahoma. The Cowboys were ranked No. 11 last week.
It’s probably little consolation to Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy, who realizes that his team’s chance to make the CFP is dead. And it will need a lot of help merely to make the Big 12 championship game Dec. 2 in Arlington, Texas.
The Cowboys ranked sixth among the two-loss teams in Tuesday’s rankings behind Auburn, USC, Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State.
Iowa State took one of the biggest stumbles, dropping six spots from last week after the Cyclones’ 20-16 loss in Morgantown to West Virginia.
Both Oklahoma State and Iowa State still have a chance to make the Big 12 title game. The winner of their game Saturday in Ames will have that opportunity, but still needs much to go right to get to Arlington.
Despite the Mountaineers’ victory last week against Iowa State, Dana Holgorsen’s team didn’t crack the 25. It took away the chance for another top 25 victory that might have buttressed TCU’s argument to jumping Oklahoma.
But the 8-1 Horned Frogs still appear to have a clear shot to the CFP. And if they upset Oklahoma Saturday in Norman, they will then have the most impressive set of road victories of any team in the nation.
Recent surge beats the alternative
The Big 12 suddenly looks in pretty good shape.
The Pac-12 is a Washington loss from being rendered irrelevant. The Big Ten is going to have rely on an overrated Wisconsin as its best hope. The Badgers haven’t played an opponent of substance other than Iowa. The Badgers don’t appear better than any of the four challengers left in the Big Ten East.
So it appears that the ACC and Big 12 have the best chances and probably in that order.
There are still four weeks of games to be played and five more polls to be released.
Pundits still might chuckle about Big 12 defenses.
But if you listen closely, more are speaking with admiration about the embattled conference which had been rendered into a national punch line in recent seasons.
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