ARLINGTON, Texas – Oklahoma could already be playoff bound, except Heisman Trophy front-runner Baker Mayfield and the No. 2 Sooners have to play in the revived Big 12 championship game – and beat No. 10 TCU for the second time in four weeks.
For a league left out of the College Football Playoff twice in the first three years of the system, the timing of its title game return could be less than ideal.
"We've known it for a while, and we're excited to play," Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said. "If they all of a sudden sprung this on us here at the end, you probably wouldn't be real happy about it. It's another chance for us to go play. It's a great thing, I think, for our league to showcase two great football teams going at it."
The Sooners (11-1, 8-1, No. 3 CFP) would almost certainly be a lock for one of the four playoff spots even without another win. But a loss could unravel everything the league had hoped for by resuming its championship game after a six-season hiatus.
Even TCU coach Gary Patterson acknowledged, when asked this week, that "probably the best (outcome) for the Big 12 is Oklahoma to win."
That doesn't mean the Horned Frogs (10-2, 7-2, No. 11 CFP) are going to roll over and clear a playoff path for Oklahoma.
Patterson's group relishes the chance to avenge a 38-20 loss in Norman, Oklahoma, just three weeks ago and win a championship, even with no realistic chance of getting in the playoff if they win.
"I have an obligation to TCU to try to win the game. Period," Patterson said.
"We feel extremely focused and confident," left tackle Joseph Noteboom said. "We just wanted another chance at them. In college football, you don't get really an opportunity to play someone again once you lose a game."
This is the first time since 1913 that TCU is playing the same opponent twice in the same season.
Oklahoma jumped out to a 38-14 lead on Nov. 11 after Mayfield threw two TDs in the final 5 1/2 minutes of the first half. Running back Rodney Anderson accounted for 290 yards (151 rushing, 139 receiving) and four touchdowns.
"I don't think either side is going to come in and just totally scrap what they do and change it completely up," Riley said. "Both teams have obviously had a lot of success doing what they're doing."
Patterson said what his Frogs have to change is getting off to a faster start and tackling better.
"We did not tackle Rodney Anderson at all in the first half," Patterson said. "And if we tackle the same way, it won't matter what defensive call we have, it'll look about the same way."
Some other things to watch in the Big 12's first championship game since 2010:
FAST STARTS-STINGY SECOND HALVES: Oklahoma has averaged 34 points in the first half of its past five games. On the other side, TCU has allowed only six total points (two field goals) in the second half of its last seven games. Even Oklahoma was scoreless in the second half against the Frogs.
"I think they just settle down," Patterson said of his defenders.
OLD VS. YOUNG: The defensive-minded Patterson is in his 17th season at TCU, making him the second-longest tenured FBS coach behind Iowa's Kirk Ferentz (19th season). The 34-year-old Riley, previously an offensive coordinator for the Sooners and East Carolina, is the youngest head coach in the FBS. He took over when Bob Stoops suddenly resigned this summer after 18 seasons.
Oklahoma is the national leader averaging 594 total yards of offense. TCU leads all Big 12 defenses, allowing 318 yards and 16 points a game.
IN JERRY WORLD: Oklahoma has split its previous two games played in the home of the NFL's Dallas Cowboys. The Sooners won the last Big 12 title game 23-20 there in 2010, and lost to Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl there two years later. TCU is 2-1 at AT&T Stadium, all of those regular season games, the last in 2013.
Mayfield has played there twice , in a Texas state high school championship game and against Baylor when he was a freshman at Texas Tech.
EXTRA POINTS: Oklahoma is 7-1 in its Big 12 title game appearances. TCU is playing in its first conference championship game in any league. ... TCU senior safety Nick Orr is expected to serve as a captain even though he won't be able to play until the second half because of a Big 12-imposed suspension for throwing a punch during a sideline scuffle against Baylor last week.
BOESEN'S BACK: TCU DE Mat Boesen had a school-record 5 1/2 sacks against Baylor and has a sack in all but one of the last seven games. The game he didn't was against Oklahoma, when he was ejected early in the second quarter after kicking at two linemen while trying to get off the ground.