Big 12 title game back after 6-season hiatus in playoff era

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — When Texas beat Nebraska in the championship game at the end of the Big 12’s first-ever season in 1996, the only other conference playing such a title game was the SEC.

The Cornhuskers were also in the last Big 12 title game, in their final season as a league member when they lost to Oklahoma in 2010.

Now after a six-season hiatus, and a change in NCAA rules to allow it, the revived Big 12 championship game returns Saturday when the No. 2 Sooners (11-1, 8-1 Big 12, No. 3 CFP) play No. 10 TCU (9-2, 7-2, No. 11 CFP) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

In the first three years of the four-team College Football Playoff, the only Big 12 team to make it was Oklahoma in 2015. Of the 12 teams to make the playoff since the CFP’s inception in 2014, 10 got there after winning their respective conference championship games.

The ACC started its conference championship game in 2005. The Big Ten and Pac-12 added title games in 2011, the first year the Big 12 was the only Power Five Conference without one.

It was after Big 12 co-champions TCU and Baylor were both 11-1 and left out of the first four-team playoff in 2014 that league leaders considered resuming the championship game. The NCAA in 2016 passed legislation co-sponsored by the Big 12 to allow conferences with less than 12 members to stage a championship game.

TCU had been No. 3 in the CFP rankings before a 55-3 win over Iowa State in its regular season finale in 2014, the same day Ohio State took advantage of a 13th game and beat Wisconsin 59-0 in the Big Ten championship game. When the final CFP rankings came out the next day, the Horned Frogs had dropped to sixth behind the Buckeyes and Baylor.

Now that so-called “13th data point” would almost certainly take the Big 12 out of playoff contention this season if Oklahoma doesn’t beat TCU for the second time in four weeks.

Even TCU coach Gary Patterson acknowledged when asked Tuesday that “probably the best (result) for the Big 12 is Oklahoma to win.”

But the Frogs certainly relish the opportunity for another chance against Oklahoma, which won 38-20 when they played in Norman on Nov. 11.

“I was the one that went from third to sixth, so for me to feel sorry for somebody else … you’re talking to the wrong person,” Patterson said.

Oklahoma is making its record ninth appearance in the Big 12 title game, having gone 7-1 in its previous eight appearances from 2000-10. Texas (3-2 in its five appearances) and Nebraska (2-4) are the only other teams who have won multiple Big 12 championship games.

The last two Big 12 title games were also played in the home stadium of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys in 2009 and 2010. Texas Stadium, the previous home of the Cowboys, hosted the game in 2001.

Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City hosted the Big 12 game a record five times (2000, 2003, 2004, 2006 and 2008), and the Alamodome in San Antonio did three times. St. Louis was the championship site twice, including the inaugural 1996 game, and the game was also played twice at the home stadium of the NFL’s Houston Texans.

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