NORMAN — Ahead of conference championship weekend, three of the College Football Playoff’s four berths appear spoken for, with unbeaten LSU, Clemson and Ohio State acting as big favorites.
Jalen Hurts isn’t worrying himself over the spot that is seemingly up for grabs Saturday. One of at least three teams could seize it, including Oklahoma, but the Sooners’ quarterback can only control how he plays against Baylor for the Big 12 championship.
He tries to block distractions.
“You see things,” Hurts admitted. “It comes down to what’s important and what’s not. What’s important is winning Saturday.”
But that won’t keep No. 7 OU (11-1) and No. 9 Baylor (11-1) from hoping a bump in the CFP’s penultimate rankings Tuesday widens their potential path to the playoff. With Alabama's loss last weekend, the Sooners could jump as high as two spots, gaining prime position to make a last-minute move into the national semifinal.
Yet, not even that will keep the Big 12 from worrying that for the first time since 2014 it might have a one-loss champion omitted from the final four. That fear has lingered ever since Baylor and TCU were snubbed by the CFP five seasons ago as 11-1 league co-winners.
That was before the conference added a conference championship game. Baylor coach Matt Rhule still spent time Monday railing against the possibility that the Big 12 could be left out this year.
He thinks the league should clinch a spot no matter what happens between OU and Baylor — the most anxiety inducing scenario for the Big 12 being a No. 4 Georgia (11-1) upset over No. 1 LSU (12-0) allowing the SEC to gobble up two playoff spots.
That would turn the CFP into a regional championship, not a national championship, Rhule argued. He also feels bonus points should be applied for Big 12 teams playing nine conference games against every league team, then facing a rematch in the title game, a format unique to the Power 5 and one the Big 12 loves very much to promote.
“I personally think the Big 12 champion should go to the College Football Playoff year in and year out. I just think the Big 12 champion should be in it,” Rhule said. “I just think if you win this league and you win nine league games, plus a 10th game and you play a rematch I think you should go have a chance to play.”
OU defensive coordinator Alex Grinch has coached in four of the five Power 5 conferences with stops at Washington State (Pac-12), Ohio State (Big Ten) and Missouri (SEC). He hasn’t faced an in-season rematch since coaching at FCS New Hampshire in the early 2000s.
“I know one of the conversations you consistently have in other conferences is who do you miss that year? Whether it’s crossover games in the SEC or same thing in the Big Ten or Pac-12 as well,” Grinch said. “I think it is unique knowing as you go through the conference slate, one of these teams if we handle our business and win games, we’ll have to play one of these guys again. It’s just unique.”
Rhule applied pressure on the CFP committee to weigh that challenge against that of other leagues. Further, he thinks conference runners-up should have no shot at a national title.
The SEC is the only league that has done it historically during the CFP era, in 2017, and the only one currently positioned to do so this season.
“It’s a regional championship if it’s limited to certain parts of the country. I’m sure [the committee] recognizes that,” he said. “I’m sure they recognize for the good of the game it has to be something people all across the country are talking about. I was a Penn State fan growing up and remember when Penn State played Georgia in the Sugar Bowl to win the national championship. That was truly national. In 1986 they played Miami, you know?
“At the end of the day if you’re not gonna win your conference — I mean you can’t really win the presidential election without winning the nomination right? You can’t not win the Republican nomination and still be president. So to me, you probably need to be a conference champion to be a national champion most of the time.”
OU coach Lincoln Riley generally avoids stumping for the Sooners or the Big 12 until after the conference championship, but he was asked if Rhule was onto something.
“That’s just not the system right now. In my core, I think every Power 5 conference champion should play. But that’s neither here nor there,” he said. “Now, our current system do I believe us playing every team in our league and every championship game being one versus two should hold more weight? I do.”
College Football Playoff rankings
Remaining release dates
• Tuesday (6:45 p.m., ESPN)
• Sunday (11 a.m., ESPN)*
* Bowl selection show
1. Ohio St. 12-0
2. LSU 12-0
3. Clemson 12-0
4. Georgia 11-1
5. Alabama 10-2
6. Utah 11-1
7. Oklahoma 11-1
8. Minnesota 10-2
9. Baylor 11-1
10. Penn St. 10-2
11. Florida 10-2
12. Wisconsin 10-2
13. Michigan 9-3
14. Oregon 10-2
15. Auburn 9-3
16. Notre Dame 10-2
17. Iowa 9-3
18. Memphis 11-1
19. Cincinnati 10-2
20. Boise St. 11-1
21. Oklahoma St. 8-4
22. Southern Cal 8-4
23. Iowa St. 8-4
24. Virginia Tech 8-4
25. Appalachian St. 11-1
The playoff semifinals match the No. 1 seed vs. the No. 4 seed, and No. 2 will face No. 3. The semifinals will be hosted at the Peach Bowl and Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 28. The championship game will be played on Jan. 13, 2020 at New Orleans.
Big 12 championship
OU vs. Baylor
When: Saturday, 11 a.m.
Place: AT&T Stadium | Arlington, Texas
Rankings/records: CFP No. 7/AP No. 6 OU (11-1); CFP No. 9/AP No. 8 Baylor (11-1)
Line: OU (-9.5)
Radio: KRXO-FM 107.7