ESPN’s Dinich pegs Big 12 as league most likely to put two teams in 2021 CFP

Dec 19, 2020; Arlington, Texas, USA; Iowa State Cyclones tight end Charlie Kolar (88) scores a touchdown in the second quarter against the Oklahoma Sooners at AT&T Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

At least one ESPN personality is going all in on the Big 12.

The Worldwide Leader’s college football reporter Heather Dinich said she sees the Big 12 as the conference most likely to put two teams – Oklahoma and Iowa State – into the College Football Playoff this season.

“I am on the Big 12 bandwagon, in case you couldn’t tell, and it is because of Iowa State,” Dinich, who has covered college football for ESPN since 2007, said during a segment on ESPN’s daily morning show Get Up on Wednesday. “I think that they have a chance at a really special season. They have two Heisman hopefuls on their roster. Not one, two. Brock Purdy, their quarterback. Breece Hall, their running back. They’re spectacular. Matt Campbell has the ability to recruit three stars and get them to play like five stars.”

Obviously, to say Oklahoma or Iowa State could make a run to the College Football Playoff would not be too hot of a take. I mean, both teams will start the season as consensus top-10 teams and, at least at this point, their Nov. 20 showdown in Norman, Okla., and a potential rematch two weeks later in the Big 12 title game, look to be games that will go a long way towards deciding one of those four playoff spots.

But, to say both teams will make the CFP will probably be met with eye rolls by some folks across the country, especially in the southeast.

Oklahoma is the only Big 12 team to have made the CFP – an event they’ve never won a game in – and there has really only been one season (2014) when two teams had legitimate shots to make the CFP at the end of the season, but neither of the league’s co-champions that year – Baylor and TCU – made the first CFP field.

The Big 12 being left out of the field that year ultimately led to the return of the league’s conference championship game and has brought us to where we are now with the possibility of the Cyclones and Sooners playing twice in a three-week span with both teams angling for spots in the top-four.

Obviously, under Dinich’s prediction, you’ll have to assume those teams will split those two games, and both will leave conference championship week with only one loss on their ledgers.

“I talked to (the Cyclones’) tight end Chase Allen last week, and he told me they’re a really special team in terms of they actually like each other,” Dinich said. “I say this, and my theory is going to get blown up if they don’t beat Iowa. I think Iowa is a really great team, and they have a chance for a special year under Kirk Ferentz. I think that’s one of the big questions. If they can get past them, then bring it on, guys.”

Now that I’ve recovered from the idea of Iowa State losing two regular-season games – to Iowa and Oklahoma – then winning the Big 12 championship game to miss out on the CFP because they lost to freaking Iowa, let’s get back to those eye rolls from the southeast because they were immediately felt during the segment.

Who else but to unleash that ceremonial opening eye roll than the SEC Network’s Paul Finebaum, who kind of looks like he just woke up from a nap before giving his response to Dinich’s thoughts on the Big 12 and naming the league he expects to put two teams into the CFP.

“Nobody will be too surprised by this, but it’s the SEC,” Finebaum confessed in a moment that, quite literally, shocked nobody. “It’s simple, Georgia plays Clemson in the first game of the year. If they win that game, I think they could even afford to lose to Alabama later on. But, Heather, listen, I don’t know if you’ve been out there in the midwest for too long on your tour across America the last two weeks, but if Iowa State loses to Oklahoma, where are they going to go for strength of schedule?”

“I just mentioned Georgia and Clemson. Alabama can run the table, they could maybe even lose at Texas A&M, and get in. This is not because I work for the SEC Network, well, maybe I shouldn’t have said that, but the point is I think Alabama and Georgia have a much better chance. I think Oklahoma is a real threat, but Iowa State, c’mon, they will not be undefeated and they will not get in.”

Dinich’s response to Finebaum is the same one that I would use, and it pertains to this strength of schedule piece of the conversation.

Yes, the Bulldogs to play Clemson during the opening weekend of the season. The Tigers are No. 2 in Athlon’s preseason top-25. The Bulldogs have one other team in that top-25 on their regular-season schedule, and it is SEC East rival Florida, who sits at No. 10 in the rankings despite losing some major contributors from last year’s team – which ended its season by getting destroyed by Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl, by the way.

On the other hand, Iowa State has the one (potentially two) games with Athlon’s No. 3 Oklahoma, plus No. 16 Iowa, No. 20 Texas and No. 25 TCU.

Both teams play four teams ranked between 25 and 60 in Athlon’s rankings.

All of this is to say… strength of schedule might not be the best metric if we’re having actual rational conversations about two teams and not letting them be skewed by conference bias.

This is not because I work for Cyclone Fanatic. Well, maybe I shouldn’t have said that.

Jared Stansbury


Jared a native of Clarinda, Iowa, started as the Cyclone Fanatic intern in August 2013, primarily working as a videographer until starting on the women’s basketball beat prior to the 2014-15 season. Upon earning his Bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication from Iowa State in May 2016, Jared was hired as the site’s full-time staff writer, taking over as the primary day-to-day reporter on football and men’s basketball. He was elevated to the position of managing editor in January 2020. He is a regular contributor on 1460 KXNO in Des Moines and makes regular guest appearances on radio stations across the Midwest. Jared resides in Ankeny with his four-year-old puggle, Lolo.