Either Oklahoma or Texas won the last seven Big 12 championship games.
When the conference title game resumes this season after a six-year hiatus, the Red River rivals could be facing each other for the second time that season. Or maybe it will be a rematch between the Sooners and Oklahoma State, though they wouldn’t play consecutive weeks since the regular Bedlam game is now set for the first Saturday of November and not at the end of the regular season.
The championship game is back in the Big 12, which was left out of the College Football Playoff in two of the first three years.
“We’ve been responsive to what we heard from the CFP,” Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby said, referring to that “13th data point” the title game creates for the league.
But the league didn’t return to divisions , which it had through 2010 when there were 12 teams. So the top two teams in the Big 12 standings will play again in the title game — a guaranteed rematch in the only power five league with a round-robin schedule. That could mean the first-ever December game between Oklahoma and Texas, both with new coaches and teams that haven’t faced each other twice in the same season since 1903.
Oklahoma, with Heisman Trophy finalist quarterback Baker Mayfield backfor his senior season, will be going for its third consecutive Big 12 title — and 11th overall.
“I’ve always envisioned it being more like this. Of course, you get the pressure with it,” said 33-year-old Lincoln Riley, a first-time head coach after Bob Stoops’ surprising retirement in June. “If you don’t enjoy that sense of pressure and those expectations, then it’s probably not the place for you.”
New Longhorns coach Tom Herman, a graduate assistant at Texas for Mack Brown in 1999 and 2000, was 22-4 the last two years as Houston’s coach after being offensive coordinator for Ohio State’s national championship team three seasons ago.
Herman takes over a Texas team coming off three consecutive losing seasons for the first time since the 1930s.
“What’s the past is in the past,” Herman said. “Our job is to make sure that whatever happened doesn’t happen again.”
Oklahoma is a heavy favorite in the Big 12 as usual, even with the unexpected coaching change, the loss of another Heisman finalist (big-play receiver Dede Westbrook) and the early departures of two running backs (Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon) to the NFL. Mayfield is among nine returning offensive starters, and six of the top eight tacklers are back. The Sooners go into the season with a 10-game winning streak, the longest among FBS teams.
Oklahoma State has never won a Big 12 title or played in the championship game, but goes into coach Mike Gundy’s 13th season with quarterback Mason Rudolph (4,091 yards passing, 28 touchdowns, four interceptions), receiver James Washington (71 catches, 1,380 yards, 10 TDs) and running back Justice Hill (1,142 yards rushing).
Mayfield. The former walk-on freshman starter at Texas Tech has passed for 7,665 yards and 76 TDs while leading the Sooners to the last two Big 12 titles.
Oklahoma State’s offensive trio of Rudolph, Washington and Hill.
Dorance Armstrong Jr., a 6-foot-4, 246-pound defensive end at Kansas who had 10 sacks and led the Big 12 with 20 tackles for loss last year.
Travin Howard and Ty Summers, two linebackers at TCU. Howard had a Big 12-high 130 tackles last season and Summers was second with 121.
Allen Lazard, Iowa State’s big-play receiver. His 1,018 yards receiving included school-record six 100-yard games.
Baylor coach Matt Rhule. After consecutive 10-win seasons at Temple, Rhule has likely the biggest challenge of the league’s three new coaches, taking over in the aftermath of Baylor’s sexual assault scandal. Rhule said his focus is on building a program, not a team, and building a culture, not an attitude.
Will Grier, West Virginia’s quarterback. Redshirted last season after transferring from Florida, where he threw for 1,204 yards in six games as a freshman in 2015.
ON THE HOT SEAT
Texas Tech scores plenty under fifth-year coach Kliff Kingsbury, averaging 38.8 points and 540 total yards a game. But the Red Raiders have allowed 39.6 points per game and gone 24-26 under their former quarterback. While going 5-7 last year, they scored 524 points — and gave up 522.
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