After shocking the world by taking care of Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl, it was thought that Oklahoma – set to return 16 starters from that roster – would have the best chance of representing the Big 12 Conference in the first College Football Playoff.
Had I told you in August that TCU (an eight-loss team in 2013 that was picked to finish No. 7 in the conference) would end up winning 12 games, play as a serious contender for the playoffs, and then embarrass an SEC West opponent in its December “We-Should-Be-in-the-Playoff Bowl,” you would have laughed it off and encouraged me to find a new profession.
But if I had added the outrageous prediction that the Sooners – who were selected to win the Big 12 by a landslide and were ranked as high as No. 4 in the country this past season – would go 8-5 and lose 40-6 in the Russell Athletic Bowl to Clemson, you might have questioned why God decided to put me on this earth.
It was an upside down kind of year for the Big 12, which ended up having two champions – though it really didn’t have any – and saw three household powers (Texas, Oklahoma, and Oklahoma State) finish with a combined 21-18 record. However, despite being top-heavy, it provided college football fans with a handful of memorable performances.
*Honorable Mention: No. 2 Alabama 33, West Virginia 23
You have to understand that although it lost, West Virginia was a 23-point underdog entering its season opener with the SEC King and kept within one score for the majority of the game. Clint Trickett throwing for 365 yards on the Alabama defense is something I never imagined writing down.
5. TCU 30, Minnesota 7
Significance: It meant very little at the time, but a dominant non-conference win against Minnesota proved to be important down the stretch. The Golden Gophers were a stout defensive team that gave Ohio State fits and beat Nebraska on the road; it was a game in which analysts began talking up toward the latter half of the season as the College Football Playoff committee started factoring resumes.
Game MVP: TCU’s defensive front seven. It forced two fumbles (the Gophers had a total of five turnovers) and held bowling ball running back David Cobb to 41 rushing yards – 84 below his season average.
Best Stat: TCU was held to 2-of-12 (16.7 percent) on third down, marking the only time all season it converted less than 33.3 percent of its conversions. It still scored 30 points and had 427 yards of offense.
Quote from the Game: “I’ve known (Gary Patterson) a long time. He’s a good football coach,” said Minnesota coach Jerry Kill. “He’s done a hell of a job here. He’s a great head coach, but I’ll tell ya, he’s one of the greatest defensive minds in all of football and always has been.”
4. No. 7 TCU 31, No. 20 West Virginia 30
Significance: West Virginia had control of the lead for the entire game … well, that was until the last play of the game. It was Trevone Boykin’s worst performance of the season – he went 12-of-30 for 166 yards with a TD and a pick – but the Horned Frogs still found a way to win with a last-second field goal. I remember that final drive quite vividly; TCU started from its own 24 with 2:07 remaining and made the plays for an exciting finish.
Game MVP: With the wind at his back and 50,000-plus screaming fans (Morgantown residents, nonetheless) praying for a miss, Jaden Oberkrom hit a 37-yard field goal to win. Had he missed, TCU would have fallen to 6-2.
Best Stat: Boykin’s Total QBR of 39.1 – which I’d assume was beefed up greatly from his final drive – was his worst output since the 2013 finale.
Quote from the Game: “I knew I hit it solid,” Oberkrom said. “The wind was tricky today, but when I looked up, it wasn’t moving much and I knew it was fine.”
3. West Virginia 41, No. 4 Baylor 27
Significance: It kept Baylor from winning the Big 12 outright and a guaranteed spot in the College Football Playoff. With the way it had battled Alabama and Oklahoma (and eventually TCU), we knew West Virginia was going to ruin someone’s day at some point – it just happened to be the Bears, who were coming off a huge win over the Horned Frogs.
Game MVP: It was – and still is – undoubtedly Clint Trickett’s best performance of his career. He finished 23-of-35 for 322 yards and three touchdowns to one interception, engineering two scoring drives in the fourth quarter that gave the Mountaineers their marquee win.
Best Stat: West Virginia’s 74th-ranked scoring defense (27.6 points per game) held Baylor’s No. 1-ranked scoring offense (48.2) to a season-low 27 points. Incredible. (Also: The two teams combined for 353 penalty yards. Yikes)
Quote from the Game: “(I feel) like we’re pretty good. We’re disappointed in the outcomes against Oklahoma and Alabama, we were in the game until the fourth quarter and didn’t finish,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “I commend our players for being very motivated. We had a great week of practice. It’s great for our University and we will enjoy it.”
2. No. 5 Baylor 61, No. 9 TCU 58
Significance: The outcome of this game made sure that neither team would receive an invite to the playoffs. Had TCU not blown a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter – or if the officials hadn’t screwed the Horned Frogs over in the final 1:12 on two separate accounts – it would have without question been the No. 3 or 4 seed.
Game MVP: The zebras – just kidding. (I’m not bitter.) In all seriousness, Baylor wide receivers Antwan Goodley and Corey Coleman made some big-time catches for Bryce Petty down the stretch; the two combined for 16 receptions, 302 yards (18.9 ypr) and four touchdowns.
Best Stat: Baylor had six touchdowns on passes thrown 20 yards or longer, most by any Power Five team in the last four seasons.
Quote from the Game: “I just knew, looking at guys’ faces, that we were going to come back in that game,” Petty said. “With our offense and the way that we play defense, 21 points isn’t a big deal for us.”
1. No. 6 TCU 42, No. 9 Ole Miss 3
Significance: You could tell TCU felt disrespected for dropping three spots out of the CFB playoff selection committee’s final rankings and missing out on the four-team joust. Personally, I would have found it difficult to put a team with a loss* and no conference championship game into the playoff, but I had little doubt that the Frogs were a better team than Florida State. TCU played angry, and it showed as it dismantled an Ole Miss team that had previously beaten Alabama, holding opponents to 13.8 points per game entering the postseason.
Game MVP: You have to hand it to the TCU defense; it went from handing 61 points to Baylor in October to allowing a stifling 16 total points in its final three games. Ole Miss had no chance from the beginning as it turned the ball over four times and mustered 2.0 yards per play.
Best Stat: The 42 points Ole Miss allowed was most in a bowl by any team to end the regular season ranked first in scoring defense in the last 10 years.
Quote from the Game: “We showed Atlanta, the crowd and everyone that we deserve to be in the playoffs competing for the national championship,” said TCU receiver Kolby Listenbee. “I think people around the nation will be talking about us for a while now.”