Big 12 gets title game without Texas or OU before they leave
By STEPHEN HAWKINS
The Big 12 doesn't have to wait until Oklahoma and Texas are gone to experience something that hasn't happened for a long time - a championship game without either of those teams.
When fifth-ranked Oklahoma State plays ninth-ranked Baylor on Saturday, it will end a streak of 16 consecutive Big 12 title games involving the Sooners or Longhorns, including one in which the SEC-bound teams played each other. The last without one of the Red River rivals was in 1998.
"There's a lot of positives from that perspective," Baylor coach Dave Aranda said. "With Oklahoma State being in it and Baylor being in it, I have to imagine that just the conference moving forward is looking at that with a smile on their face."
This will be the 20th Big 12 championship game, the fifth since the game was reinstated in 2017 after a six-year hiatus. Oklahoma played in 12 of the first 19, winning the past five and 11 overall. Texas made six appearances and there were only two games without either team.
Oklahoma State (11-1) and Baylor (10-2) will still be part of the Big 12 when Oklahoma and Texas, the only teams to win national championships while in the league, move to the SEC no later than the 2025 season - and maybe sooner.
New additions BYU, UCF, Cincinnati and Houston could be part of the Big 12 even before the Sooners and Longhorns are gone. BYU, an independent, will play its first Big 12 football season in 2023, and the trio from the American Athletic Conference will join no later than 2024.
There was plenty of speculation that the Big 12 was doomed when its two most storied football schools announced before this season their plans to bolt to an expanded SEC. But having two other teams in this year's title game, and three of the future teams in the AP Top 25, should help change that perception.
"I certainly don't think it can hurt. I think it would benefit us," Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. "Whenever it settles, 2023 or whenever it may be, I think we have five teams in now that are in the top 15 in the country that would be in this new conference with the other four schools coming in. I think that strength shows a lot for what the new conference is going to be in a year or two, or whenever it takes place."
Actually top 16, including undefeated third-ranked Cincinnati, which plays 16th-ranked Houston in the American Athletic Conference championship game on Saturday. Houston (11-1) has an 11-game winning streak since opening its season with a loss to Big 12 member Texas Tech. No. 12 BYU (10-2) has won its past five games since a loss at Baylor in mid-October.
That ranked trio is a combined 33-1 this season against teams outside the current Big 12.
Sonny Dykes, in his introduction Tuesday as TCU's new coach, said the Big 12 will "continue to get stronger and stronger" even when Texas and Oklahoma are gone.
"You look at BYU, look at Cincinnati, you look at Houston, look at Central Florida, those are good football teams," Dykes said. "It's going to interesting to see how it plays out. it's going to be a very competitive league."
Oklahoma had won six consecutive Big 12 titles, and all four championship games since those resumed, before losing Saturday night in Bedlam to the Cowboys. The 13th-ranked Sooners went into that regular-season finale having been Big 12 champions for 2,192 consecutive days, and would have advanced for the shot at another title with a win over their rival.
But the loss left Oklahoma tied for second place with Baylor, which had beaten the Sooners at home two weeks earlier.
Texas beat Nebraska in the inaugural championship game in 1996 when the league had two six-team divisions - Texas and Oklahoma were in the same division. After Texas A&M represented the South Division in the 1997 and 1998 games, the Longhorns or Sooners held that spot in every game through 2010.
There was no Big 12 championship game from 2011-16, after the league settled at 10 teams and a round-robin schedule.
When the title game was reinstated in 2017, the top two teams in the standings played in the game. That was Oklahoma and Texas in 2018, when the Sooners won after losing to the Longhorns two months earlier in the annual rivalry game at the State Fair of Texas.
Once Oklahoma and Texas completed their exit to the SEC, and the four new teams come in, the Big 12 will be back to 12 teams. Half of those will be charter members: Baylor, Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25. Sign up for the AP's college football newsletter: https://apnews.com/cfbtop25
Updated November 30, 2021