Ranking the Big 12’s College Football Playoff contenders
Things are getting interesting in the Big 12. John Kosko takes a look at whether one team can ultimately make the playoff.
Ranking the Big 12’s College Football Playoff contenders
Last year, the committee famously left the Big 12 out of the inaugural College Football Playoff. The same could happen again to the conference this year, with Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Baylor and TCU back-loading their schedules. While Oklahoma State is the lone remaining undefeated team, nothing is certain. With that said, here are the top four Big 12 teams based on our grades, along with a final prediction for the conference:
1. Oklahoma Sooners
9-1, No. 3 overall in PFF grades
Knocking off previously unbeaten Baylor on the road is a monstrous résumé-boosting victory. Quaterback Baker Mayfield officially announced to the world that he is Heisman-worthy with a +8.5 performance. He currently holds the top grade of all QBs, surpassing Trevone Boykin. Maybe even more impressive was the defense holding the highest-scoring team in the nation to just 34 points. Wide receiver Corey Coleman was held to season lows with six targets, three catches and 51 yards, and was held out of the end zone for the first time all year.
Sterling Shepard almost leap-frogged into the top wide receiver spot (he’s second to Josh Doctson) with a monster +6.2 receiving performance that saw him catch 14 of 16 for 177 yards and two TDs. The Sooners are loaded with talent, being the only team in college football with both offense and defense grading over +100.
While facing a potentially Boykin-less TCU next week should be a win for the Sooners, a regular season finale at Oklahoma State looms large and could determine whether or not the Big 12 is represented in the playoff.
2. Oklahoma State Cowboys
10-0, No. 10 overall in PFF grades
The Cowboys struggled mightily in Ames, IA in the classic trap game. Iowa State roared to a 24-7 lead before Oklahoma State’s talent took over. QB Mason Rudolph currently holds the fourth-best passing grade at +33.5 despite throwing just 18 TDs while short yardage and goal line QB J.W. Walsh has +8.3 on just 117 snaps. Rudolph doesn’t lack for weapons as his top five WRs all grade positively with David Glidden +10.0 and James Washington +5.2 leading the way. The most impressive part of the Cowboys attack is Rudolph’s deep passing game: 32-for-62 (six drops), 1082 yards, 11 touchdowns and two interceptions with a nation leading 61.3 accuracy percentage.
The defense is led by DE Emmanuel Ogbah, who sports a +39.7 grade which is third in the nation of all edge defenders. He also ranks third in pass rushing productivity at 15.4 amassing 56 pressures, 10 hits and eight sacks. The rest of the defense is solid with just one starter grading negatively.
While Oklahoma State has the “friendliest” schedule moving forward in terms of having two home games, if the Cowboys want to keep their playoff hopes alive, they must win both. Because of how the schedule has played out, a loss is a guaranteed playoff buster.
3. Baylor Bears
8-1, No. 5 overall in PFF grades
Baylor is the only team with three games remaining, but their playoff hopes are likely all but done. With a home loss against OU, in which the high-flying offense struggled for large chunks of the game, the Bears need a lot to go right to get earn a playoff berth.
It can be argued Baylor’s season ended when QB Seth Russell needed neck surgery. Russell ran the offense better than a well-oiled machine. While Jarrett Stidham has played well, the Baylor attack clearly hasn’t looked like its dominant self in the two games since the injury.
That said, with Stidham at quarterback, the Baylor offense is still potent with the best receiving corps in the nation. Corey Coleman’s dud against OU has been noted, but what he has done outside that game has been utterly ridiculous: 58 catches for 1180 yards and 20 TDs, stats everyone by now knows. His 146.0 passer rating when targeted (fourth in nation) and 5.22 yards per route run (first in nation) are eye-popping. Granted his YPPR dropped to 4.72 after the OU game but that still crushes second place by .77.
The Bears’ offensive line is solid with LT Spencer Drango +20.2 and RG Jarell Broxton +23.1 leading the charge. Drango has allowed just three hurries on the year while Broxton has allowed just one hit. A bevy of talented runners rotate in the backfield with Shock Linwood second in the nation in elusive rating at 137.6, forcing 57 missed tackles on 163 touches.
Baylor’s defense has talent, especially in the front seven. Three defensive lineman graded better than +23.0: DT Andrew Billings +28.3, DE Jamal Palmer +23.7, and DE K.J. Smith +23.0. Don’t be fooled by the DE Shawn Oakman as a top prospect: he is the fourth best DL on the team at +5.9. While he may “look” the part, Oakman doesn’t show the speed, power and technique to generate consistent pressure.
If Baylor wins out and claim the Big 12 crown, they pose a tremendous debate as to whether they are deserving, especially with both ranked opponents being on the road.
4. TCU Horned Frogs
9-1, No. 12 overall in PFF grades
One loss doesn’t define a season and neither does one victory, but TCU’s nail-biter against the worst team in college football (I’m a Kansas fan and former Jayhawk, it hurts) certainly feels like the nail-in-the-coffin for their CFP hopes. After an awful showing at Oklahoma State, TCU hosted the lowly Jayhawks in what was to be a tune-up before a brutal final two games. Kansas had other plans as the worst graded defense put forth a truly inspiring effort in attempt at what would have been the biggest upset of the week, if not the year.
QB Trevone Boykin left the game in the first quarter with a sprained ankle. He is uncertain for the game against the Sooners, and while winning in Norman, OK is tough for any team, TCU has no chance if Boykin can’t go. Heading into the game, Boykin was PFF’s number one graded QB, even after a four interception game against Oklahoma State. The offense was out of sync all game, save for the running prowess of Aaron Green +2.3 and Kyle Hicks +1.9.
No shock here, but TCU’s defense had their best game of the year with a team grade of +32.6. That still doesn’t mask the fact that the Horned Frogs’ defense has been suspect all season. While DE Terrell Lathan +17.1 and DB Denzel Johnson +16.8 are having great years, the rest of the defense has under achieved with LB/DE Josh Carraway taking a notable step back from last year: +16.5 in 2014, -1.3 in 2015.
TCU can impress with victories in the each of the next two weeks, but an argument for them to be playoff contender flew out the window when they struggled to put away a 46.5 point underdog at home.
Oklahoma wins out, led by Heisman hopeful Baker Mayfield and makes the College Football Playoff.