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OU football: Big 12 Championship game just what the Sooners needed

Berry Tramel

ARLINGTON, Texas — Critics of the Big 12 Conference are like critics of the new Butterfinger recipe.

They are many and they are not wrong.

The Big 12 has taken more missteps than a drunken sailor on the deck of rough seas. But the league has righted itself in recent years, and Saturday offers the prime example. An Oklahoma-Baylor Big 12 Championship Game that is exactly what the conference needs this football season.

The sixth-ranked Sooners and seventh-ranked Bears, both just outside the circle of the four-team College Football Playoff, meeting in Jerry Jones’ AT&T Stadium with a chance to play their way in.

So kudos to Big 12 decision-makers. After the league went without a championship game for six years, the format of matching the top two finishers in a 10-team league is a rousing success.

“I certainly understand why we’ve done it,” OU coach Lincoln Riley said, “and I think at the end of the season, having a marquee where your No. 1 vs. No. 2 … it’s different from any other conference, very positive for the Big 12.”

This is what the Big 12 needed in 2014, when going into the final week of play, TCU and Baylor were ranked third and sixth by the College Football Playoff committee. But instead of meeting in a Big 12 title game, they played routine opponents, and when Ohio State routed Wisconsin in the Big Ten Championship Game and undefeated Florida State won the ACC Championship Game, both jumped TCU. The Big 12 was shut out of the playoff.

Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said this week that both OU and Baylor “would be on the outside looking in without the opportunity for the 13th data points (games). It’s really very similar to the situation TCU and Baylor were in in 2014.”

The Big 12 soon thereafter voted to revive the championship game, which went dormant in 2011 after a glorious 14-year run.

Bowlsby said the conference members were not unanimous in bringing back the title game, “but the more we looked at it, and the more we analyzed the information we had available to us, it became clear we would have a better chance of accessing the playoff than if we didn’t.”

This season is Exhibit A. The OU-Baylor winner will be 12-1, with an extra victory over a top-10 team. That’s the kind of resume’ builder than can make or break a playoff berth. The playoff committee is meeting this weekend, will hold its final vote after the games Saturday night and will announce the four-team field Sunday (11 a.m., ESPN).

The Big 12 Championship Game began with the advent of the conference in 1996, but only once before have both participating teams harbored national championship hopes — 2001, with Colorado and Texas. Now the Big 12 not only has a matchup of top-seven teams, but teams that played an epic game only three weeks ago, won 34-31 by the Sooners after a comeback from 25 points down.

“Our structure is a different path, but in this case, because of the nature of the game the first time around, the rematch is even more interesting than it might have been otherwise,” Bowlsby said.

“It’s really hard to get through our league undefeated. OU in ’16 is the only one that has done it in the modern day. It’s very hard to get to this point in the season, two teams that are 11-1 when everybody’s playing everybody and you’re as competitive top to bottom. There aren’t any days off.”

Including Saturday, when the Big 12’s two best teams play for the conference trophy and a potential playoff berth, happy to have the chance.

Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at


Oklahoma vs. Baylor

When: 11 a.m., Saturday

Where: AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas

TV: ABC (Cox 8)

Radio: KRXO-FM 107.7

The inside of AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, bears an Oklahoma across one end zone for Saturday’s Big 12 Championship. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]