Baylor and TCU shared the Big 12 championship last season with two combined losses between them, including Baylor’s victory over TCU. Despite similar 11-1 records, both Baylor and TCU were passed over by the College Football Playoff selection committee in favor of Alabama, Oregon, Florida State and Ohio State. A one-loss Big 12 champion is not likely to be left out of the College Football Playoff on a regular basis, and Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy seems aware of that. He also knows you likely do not have a shot at playing in the playoff without a conference championship on your résumé.
“I don’t know how you can not win our league and still get in and win a national championship,” Gundy said in an interview with ESPN.com. “It would be extremely difficult. If we win a Big 12 championship, we get a great opportunity to get our foot in the door and win a national championship. That is our ultimate goal.”
Gundy is spot on. With only four spots up for grabs, the chances of cracking the top four in college football when it matters most could be very slim at best for any contender without a conference championship to brag about. The exception in this case would obviously be Notre Dame, with the Irish not in a power conference. Last season may have been a bit of a strange year that left the Big 12 out in the cold, because how often will all of the power conferences have one-loss or undefeated champions, and how often will one-loss champions (or co-champions) be left out of a four-team playoff?
The College Football Playoff has allowed for a slightly wider margin for error for title contenders, but last season proved the margin can still be pretty thin without much else to your profile. Baylor’s strength of schedule was damaging to the Bears in the end, and TCU’s was marginally better, but the Big 12 as a whole stumbled in some key opportunities for some quality wins as well, and overall conference pedigree can be a key influence on how a team is perceived.