The Big 12 Conference enjoyed a healthy 2017 season on the gridiron, fielding multiple playoff contenders throughout the year before Baker Mayfield and Oklahoma punched their ticket to the Rose Bowl as the No. 2 team in the country.
The Sooners are responsible for both of the Big 12’s playoff appearances since the format was implemented, previously appearing in 2015. But the Big 12 remains the lone Power 5 conference without a playoff win, as Oklahoma lost in the semifinals on both occasions.
And if the outlook for the 2018 regular season is any indicator, things won’t be getting any easier for the Big 12 in its quest to finally have that elusive playoff semifinal breakthrough.
ESPN’s 2018 Football Power Index (FPI) projections suggest that the Big 12 has the lowest chance of making the playoff among all Power 5 conferences this fall, even trailing independent Notre Dame.
The Sooners own a Big 12-best 18 percent chance of boasting a top-four strength of record at the end of championship weekend in December, per the projections. Every other Power 5 conference has at least one team with higher odds than Oklahoma, while Notre Dame is listed at 34 percent alone.
Combine it all, and ESPN’s 2018 FPI projections forecast a 26 percent chance of the Big 12 housing a team with a top-four strength of record at the end of the regular season. Adding to that sting, six teams — Clemson, Alabama, Georgia, Washington, Notre Dame and Ohio State — have a better individual odds of boasting a top-four strength of record than the Big 12’s overall odds of boasting a single team.
So what’s the matter with the conference? ESPN’s Seth Walder hinted that parity could potentially plague the Big 12 in 2018:
“The Big 12’s problem is everyone else. There is a large drop-off after the Sooners, which means that if Oklahoma doesn’t win the Big 12, there’s a good chance that the team that does take the conference title won’t have had a dominant enough season to earn a playoff berth. Texas is the next most likely candidate, but the Longhorns have the sixth-hardest schedule in the FBS and therefore have less than a 1 percent chance to win out and only a 3 percent shot to win the Big 12 with no more than one loss.” — Seth Walder, ESPN Analytics
The rather unsettling outlook for the Big 12 can also be attributed, of course, to the departures of several key figures from the 2017 season — notably Mayfield and Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph. TCU, who lost to Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game, will also see the departure of its 2017 starter — Kenny Hill.
The good news: college football often writes its own script — one that always features a surprise team or two. Big 12 fans can only hope that, as has been the case before, one of those surprise teams in 2018 belongs to the conference.