For the first time in Big 12 history, Oklahoma and Texas will take the field against each other to determine the Big 12 champion. As far as the Big 12 is concerned, this is the dream matchup for the conference with two of the bluest of blueblood programs and bitterest of rivals facing off for all the marbles in the conference. This is the matchup the Big 12 has wanted to see since bringing the conference championship game back in an age without division champions.
Of the 17 Big 12 championship games in the history of the conference, including this weekend’s matchup, only two have not included either Oklahoma or Texas. Those came in 1997 and 1998, when Texas A&M clinched the Big 12 South that included both the Sooners and Longhorns. In fact, the 1997 Big 12 championship game featured two teams no longer in the conference with Texas A&M (SEC) and Nebraska (Big Ten) going at it in San Antonio. But since 1999, every Big 12 championship game has seen Oklahoma or Texas occupy one of the sidelines. This week, they’ll fill both sides of the field.
1. Kyler Murray in the Heisman Trophy race
OK, so Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa is going to win the Heisman Trophy this season. That has pretty much been a foregone conclusion, right? While that may not change this weekend, as some Heisman Trophy voters are already submitting their ballots, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray has an opportunity to deliver his own Heisman-worthy moment and close the gap with Alabama’s quarterback.
Kyler Murray is having a better season than Baker Mayfield did last year, and that’s why this is the best two-man Heisman race since Reggie-Vince in 2005. The difference is we may never see Murray play football again after January. So enjoy it now. https://t.co/ePNORvyUN7 pic.twitter.com/5ltC6sdoYU
— Andy Staples (@Andy_Staples) November 29, 2018
Murray has already been named the Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year with 3,674 passing yards and 37 touchdown passes to just seven interceptions with a completion percentage of 70.6, 853 rushing yards, and 11 rushing touchdowns. Murray’s stats are impressive and will be why he is in New York next week as a Heisman Trophy finalist. If Oklahoma beats Texas, then Murray is likely to be the biggest reason for it, and that should lead to a handful of big plays that could be defined as a Heisman moment (for those who believe you have to have one to be considered for the award). For what it is worth, Tagovalioa hasn’t had one of those desired Heisman moments because he and Alabama have been so dominant this season. But if voters are wooed by big plays in big moments, then Murray will get one final chance to serve some up against the Longhorns.
2. Oklahoma is 3-0 in rematches played in the Big 12 championship game
Now that the Big 12 is choosing to play a conference championship game on top of a full round-robin nine-game conference schedule, we are guaranteed to get rematches every year in the Big 12 championship game. Last year, when the conference title game returned, Oklahoma won a rematch against TCU, a team they had defeated earlier in the season.
Prior to the Big 12 reducing its membership total to 10 teams amid realignment changes to force the conference to abandon the conference championship game after the 2010 season, there had been a total of six rematches in the Big 12 championship game. The team winning the regular season matchup was 1-1. The Texas Longhorns lost the first rematch in a Big 12 title game in 1999. After upsetting Nebraska earlier in the season that fall, 24-20, the Longhorns were dominated by the Huskers in the rematch in the Big 12 championship game. Nebraska won the game 22-6 for what would end up being Nebraska’s last conference championship in program history.
Oklahoma’s first time playing a rematch in the Big 12 championship game was in 2000. After No. 8 Oklahoma had upset No. 2 Kansas State in mid-October, the No. 1 Sooners clipped No. 8 Kansas State later on in the conference championship game to clinch a spot in the BCS National Championship game, where Oklahoma defeated Florida State in a 13-2 defensive battle in the Orange Bowl.
Texas is 1-2 in rematches played in the Big 12 championship game. Oklahoma is 3-0.
3. A chance for redemption for Texas
As weird as it may seem, considering Texas beat Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry earlier this season, this is a good chance for Texas to find some redemption. The Longhorns let a 45-24 lead on Oklahoma evaporate in the fourth quarter with their offense going missing and the Sooners putting together quick scores to tie the game. Fortunately for Texas, they managed to get the win with a field goal in the final minute of the game. It was a major win for Texas, but showed the Longhorns still have to learn how to close out some games in certain conditions.
Texas later lost a back-and-forth game against West Virginia, and the Longhorns struggled to slam the door shut on Kansas last week. The way Oklahoma has been rolling on offense, suggesting Texas will have any lead that should be considered safe would be unwise. So if Texas does have a lead in the fourth quarter, they will have to step up on defense and offense to prevent Oklahoma from thinking they have a chance to win the rematch.
4. Tom Herman vs. Lincoln Riley is a coaching rivalry built for the Big 12
Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley and Texas head coach Tom Herman are young enough and ambitious enough to build quite a legendary coaching rivalry for years to come, and a matchup in the Big 12 championship game can go a long way to making an iconic coaching rivalry even better. Herman and Riley haven’t been the head coaches of their programs long enough to be compared to coaching rivalries like Bo Schembechler vs. Woody Hayes, but the seeds for something similar are certainly there.
They already coach at two legendary rival programs and have the potential to be battling for Big 12 bragging rights on a fairly regular basis. And two years into their respective head coaching tenures at their current schools, the two have split the results in the regular season with Lincoln scoring a win over Herman in 2017 and Herman getting his win this year.
It seems there are not enough good, quality coaching rivalries in the game. Jim Harbaugh vs. Urban Meyer is fine to discuss, but ultimately lopsided in favor of Meyer at the moment. Nick Saban vs. Jimbo Fisher could have some potential with Alabama and Texas A&M, but that may not have the staying power one might hope if Saban feels there is nothing more to accomplish in the next few years. But Herman vs. Riley is one rivalry that has true potential to last for a while.
Of course, Riley’s name floating around some various NFL coaching rumor mills could bring an abrupt end to this whole idea just as it is starting to get good.
5. Oklahoma’s College Football Playoff hopes
The batch of rankings turned out by the College Football Playoff selection committee appear to give Oklahoma a pretty simple path into the playoff for a second straight season. A win by the Sooners coupled by an Alabama win over Georgia in the SEC Championship Game would very likely allow Oklahoma to move into the playoff as the No. 4 seed (assuming Clemson beats Pittsburgh and under the assumption 12-0 Notre Dame is in). The only competition for Oklahoma would be a potentially one-loss Ohio State with the Big Ten championship, but the committee has been firm in ranking Oklahoma ahead of Ohio State in recent weeks, even after Ohio State’s blowout win over Michigan last weekend.
A loss, obviously, drops Oklahoma from the running and likely benefits Ohio State if the Buckeyes top Northwestern in the Big Ten championship game. On championship Saturday, Oklahoma will be the first to make their playoff case as Oklahoma and Texas are scheduled for a noon eastern kickoff, four hours before Georgia gets their crack at Alabama in the SEC Championship Game and eight hours before Ohio State faces Northwestern in the Big Ten Championship Game and Clemson faces Pittsburgh in the ACC Championship Game.
Texas can play spoiler in a big way for their biggest rival in the conference. For Texas, win or lose, the Longhorns may be heading to the Sugar Bowl. A win to be crowned Big 12 champion won’t elevate Texas high enough to go to the College Football Playoff, so the Longhorns would head to the Sugar Bowl as the Big 12 champion per the Big 12’s automatic tie-in with the Sugar Bowl. The Big 12 sends its champion to the Sugar Bowl unless that champion is selected for a spot in the College Football Playoff. Per the Big 12’s policy, if its champion plays in another playoff game, then it will send its conference runner-up to the Sugar Bowl in its place in years when the Sugar Bowl is not a playoff game, meaning that Texas in the Sugar Bowl feels like a lock.
If Oklahoma wins but is not selected for the playoff, however, then Oklahoma would then be playing in the Sugar Bowl instead and Texas will likely head to the Alamo Bowl instead.