Art Briles is one of the nation’s brightest football coaches. He’s done more with less at Baylor because of smarts and hard work.
He’s changed Baylor from a Big 12 afterthought into a two-time league champ because of astute recruiting and player development and an innovative offensive system.
That’s why Baylor missing out on the College Football Playoff can be so frustrating.
Baylor the overachiever, so adept at maximizing its potential, misused some of its most valuable resources.
In the eyes of the 2014 College Football Playoff selection committee, no resource was more important than games. All four teams in the playoff played 13. The top two teams left out had 12.
And Baylor squandered a quarter of its most valuable resource on Buffalo, SMU and Northwestern State.
In the end, Baylor was able to overtake TCU, a team the Bears defeated head-to-head in October, but not a team that played a 13th game Saturday.
Laugh at the outsized role TCU’s win over Minnesota played in the rankings, but Baylor has to believe that if the Bears defeated Minnesota 30-7 instead of TCU, Baylor would be packing its bags for New Orleans to face Alabama.
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From the onset, members of the selection committee avoided talk of sending messages to football programs hoping to get into the playoff.
This is all about picking the four best teams, they say, not telling athletic directors how to go about their business.
No matter what, though, the committee would send an implicit message on selection Sunday.
The message Sunday was directed squarely at the Big 12: Teams in this league need to do something about their schedules.
“I can’t answer what’s best for the Big 12 conference,” said selection committee chair Jeff Long, who is also the athletic director at Arkansas. “That’s not for us to decide. That’s for the Big 12 to decide, what they think is in their best interests.”
With four playoff spots and five power conferences, one was bound to be left out of the national championship picture. This year, it was the only league without a conference championship game.
Is the message that conference championship games are a necessity? Should the Big 12 start scouring the American or Mountain West for its next two teams?
Long won’t tell the Big 12 what to do, but his explanation of why Ohio State is playing for a title instead of TCU or Baylor is telling.
“(The 13th game) had an effect,” Long said. “It was an additional game that we could see Ohio State prove their strength. It was significant. I can’t say that it wasn’t.”
Adding a conference championship game, either by expansion or by being granted an NCAA waiver to have a title game with 10 teams, isn’t the only answer.
By selecting Ohio State, the committee in part indicated a team doesn’t necessarily have to schedule a great Power 5 team and it doesn’t necessarily have to win under the right circumstances.
In the second week of the season, Ohio State lost at home to a Virginia Tech team that finished 3-5 in the ACC. In earlier comments, Long indicated the selection committee didn’t see such a loss as being as devastating as it seemed to be.
On selection Sunday, that was made even more clear. Ohio State had the worst loss of any team in playoff contention and still made the field. The Big Ten championship game gave Ohio State yet another opportunity to atone for that loss.
When the Big 12 elected to stand pat at 10 teams, the league had to know it was taking a risk by standing on a island as the only league without a title game.
It’s too early, though, to assume the Big 12 has to crawl to BYU or Boise State or Cincinnati or UCF or Memphis for expansion. The criteria for the basketball selection committee ebbs and flows with each season. The criteria for this specific football committee seemed to change for week to week.
What kept Baylor or TCU out of the playoff in 2014 might not be an eliminator in 2015.
A major upheaval and another round of conference realignment isn’t necessary just yet. Effort should be the first step.
Why not try scheduling BYU or Cincinnati before adding them to the conference? Facing UCF or Boise State might not be a signature non-conference win, but they won’t be the schedule deadweight of an FCS team, either.
And that doesn’t scratch the surface of more prominent programs that might be willing to play a game in Texas, neutral site or otherwise, for recruiting purposes.
Even Kansas State, a program whose trademark is easy non-conference games, found a way to get Auburn to visit Manhattan.
“This is going to be a wake-up call,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told ESPN’s Rece Davis on air Sunday. “You don’t want to get left out of the postseason because of a weakness in your non-conference schedule.”
Big 12 teams have three opportunities each season to not take the easy way out on a non-conference game.
On Sunday, it was clear those opportunities can’t be wasted.