With one week remaining until the first final College Football Playoff (CFP) rankings in history were released, No. 3 TCU (10-1) was sitting pretty in the playoff and was expected to become the first Big 12 team to headline it. No. 6 Baylor (10-1) wasn’t too far behind, and many would argue that they deserved the spot over TCU after beating them 61-58 (yes, a football score) in Week 7.
At the very least, there would surely be at least one team featured in the playoff from the Big 12. There was just one problem: Every Power 5 conference had a conference championship except for them.
The Big 12 Conference did not have a conference championship from 2011-2017 due to its realignment, in which four teams left the conference (Nebraska, Colorado, Texas A&M and Colorado) and two teams joined (TCU and West Virginia). This was due to the conference not having enough teams for an extra game according to NCAA rules, as they needed twelve teams and only had ten.
No. 4 Florida State and No. 5 Ohio State each won their respective championships, with the Buckeyes crushing No. 13 Wisconsin 59-0 to make an incredible statement. They were ultimately given the edge in the end, as each team jumped TCU to take the last two spots in the playoff.
They would eventually make an exception for the Big 12 having a championship in 2017, three years too late.
One question to ask when determining if this was fair or not is: what would have happened if there were a Big 12 Championship?
If the Big 12 had implemented their current conference championship format by this point, TCU and Baylor would’ve had a rematch for the ages and the winner would’ve played Oregon in the Rose Bowl come January.
Another question that can be asked is: did the four playoff teams deserve to be in ahead of TCU and Baylor?
TCU was a dominant force in the Big 12, sporting an average point differential (APD) of 26.5, an average yardage differential (AYD) of 182.67 and defeating six teams that made a bowl, four of which were ranked at the time and two that were ranked at the time of the final CFP rankings.
Baylor wasn’t far behind, posting an APD of 24.66, an AYD of 213.66 and finishing with records of 5-1 against bowl contenders and 3-0 against teams in the top-15 (2 that were still top-15 at the time of the final CFP rankings), only losing to a 7-5 West Virginia in Week 8.
Baylor and TCU outpaced every contender in AYD, and TCU was on top in APD. But the playoff teams did have more wins against teams that were ranked at the time, though half of them only did so because of their conference championships.
Either way, the similarities were all there.
TCU shared a near-identical story with the top-2 contenders, Alabama and Oregon. Alabama lost to one of the SEC’s best teams in Ole Miss (who would ironically get obliterated by TCU 42-3 in the Peach Bowl) and though considered an upset at the time, Arizona’s 31-24 defeat of Oregon would prove to be more than a fluke, as Arizona would maintain their success and even contend for the playoff towards the end of the season.
Baylor had a comparable season to Ohio State. Each team dominated throughout, but one mediocre team ruined their chances of a perfect season early, as Ohio State lost to unranked Virginia Tech in their second game of the season.
TCU and Baylor crushed their opponents the way championship contenders do and that was apparent in how similar their stat lines were to the actual championship contenders. The only team that dominated as much as TCU did was Oregon, with an APD of 25.8, and the closest team to reaching their AYDs was Ohio State (179.62).
The only team not mentioned here is arguably the worst playoff contender ever: Florida State. The Seminoles finished with a meager APD of 11.7 and AYD of 56.38.
To put in perspective how much they didn’t deserve their playoff spot, No. 23 LSU (8-4) had an APD of 10 and AYD of 77.58 that year. The two main differences between a barely ranked LSU and Florida State were that LSU played three teams that were in the top-10 (according to the final CFP rankings) and beat one of them, and Florida State played zero, and Florida State somehow managed to go undefeated.
Based on statistics, it’s easy to see that Florida State wasn’t the same team they were a year ago when they won the national championship, and that was made clear when Florida State got routed by Oregon 59-20. They didn’t deserve the spot, but realistically it would have been difficult to not put them in, as they hadn’t lost a game since 2012 (albeit they were close to losing many times in 2014).
Replacing the Seminoles with TCU could’ve produced one of the best playoff games of the decade (Oregon vs. TCU), but the more realistic scenario would have been to add two more spots and give Alabama and Oregon byes. Keeping the final CFP rankings the same, TCU and Ohio State would’ve likely advanced over Florida State and Baylor, and we would’ve witnessed some amazing football in the semifinals.
The definition of a playoff is a game or games played between multiple teams to decide an outcome between tied contestants. So, it seems obvio…
This problem has repeated itself many times and will likely continue until an expansion is implemented, but TCU and Baylor are some of the best examples of teams that would’ve taken advantage of it. As stated earlier, TCU demolished No. 9 Ole Miss in the Peach Bowl in what many would describe as not only a statement to the NCAA, but definite proof that they should’ve been included in the playoff, and Baylor would lose 42-41 to an underrated Michigan State in the Cotton Bowl.