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'One True Champion' slogan points to playoff problem for Big 12


DALLAS -- One is the loneliest number, and that's fine with the Big 12 conference.

As the Big 12 kicked off its annual media days on Monday, the number was seen and heard at every turn. Promos featured coaches morphing into one another discussing the league's new catch phrase, "One True Champion." Graphics everywhere at the Omni Hotel boldly proclaimed how the conference formerly filled with strife was just one big, happy family in 2014.

Set against the backdrop of college football's upcoming playoff, however, the Big 12's proclamation that it's all for one and one for all might not be as good for the conference as it makes it out to be.

"I like our path to the championship. I think the fact that we play everybody in our league is a nuance that is not going to be lost on the selection committee," said Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby. "That really is sum and substance of why we are promoting the difference between how we determine a champion and how other leagues determine their champions."

A round-robin format certainly makes the most sense from a football perspective, and the Big 12 should be applauded for it in an era where division crossover opponents are often key in determining who plays in a league championship game. However, the Big 12's format likely will put Bowlsby's 10 teams at a significant disadvantage versus other leagues, as they're essentially putting all their playoff eggs in one basket with a conference champion that will have very little wiggle room.

"You want to get in the final four, win the Big 12 and go unscathed," said Baylor coach Art Briles. "You do that, you go 9-0 in the Big 12, you're going to be in the final four because you're going to beat probably two top 10 teams, probably two others in the top 20, and maybe another (in the) top 25, which is what we faced last year. That's a resumé that's good enough to match any other conference."

In most years it certainly would get a team into the playoff, given what can transpire in the much larger ACC, Big Ten, SEC and Pac-12 conferences. However, that's assuming a team like Baylor can overcome slim odds and make it out of the Big 12 with a perfect record. History has shown that doesn't work out often -- a Big 12 team has run the table in league play just five times in nearly two decades.

If a team wraps up the regular season with a loss (or two) on its record, that conference mark will mean a lot less and other games will be looked at closer by the College Football Playoff selection committee. It's not an ideal situation for a league with Southeast Missouri State, Buffalo, Northwestern State, Stephen F. Austin and others on the non-conference docket this year. A format with no conference championship game, cited by many as a positive in Dallas on Monday, could be more of a hindrance than a help in this case, too.

"I know the previous five (Big 12) champions might not have done it," Briles said on the prospect of going undefeated. "I mean, with what you do going through this league, no, I don't see that as a problem at all. But who knows? I mean, that's why they formed the committee."

Last week, we were barraged by the discussion at SEC Media Days (or is it week?) about how likely it would be for that conference to get two teams into the playoff semifinals. There was no such talk in Dallas, just the constant refrain about the strength of the conference schedule being enough.

It might be enough for Texas and Oklahoma, but for the Baylors, Oklahoma States and Kansas States of the world, it probably won't.

Will two teams from the Big 12 ever make it into the final four? That seems like a long shot of epic proportions given how difficult it might be to land one team from the league in the playoff. It's a numbers game, and the smallest power conference might be squeezed out by those like the Pac-12 and SEC. Those leagues have legitimate shots at being strong enough to land two teams in the playoff, diluting the opportunities for a one-loss Big 12 squad.

It might take a special team to go 8-1 in the Big 12 and have a better resumé than a one-loss Oregon or Florida. Around the Big 12, it might be undefeated or bust when it comes to the playoff.

"We want to win national championships and I don't think our coaches shy away from that," Bowlsby said. "It's been a little while since we've won a championship and I think all of us think it's about time we did."

It won't be for a lack of trying around the Big 12, but for a conference that will still have co-champions if the occasion calls for it, the "One True Champion" mantra might not translate on a national level.

Follow Bryan Fischer on Twitter @BryanDFischer.

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