Baylor football fans circled Thursday on their calendars long ago. Big 12 football fans now have reason to do the same.
It will be a big day for everyone involved.
Not only does Thursday mark perhaps the biggest game in Bears history, it marks the official start of the Big 12 championship hunt. And what a way to begin the festivities. No. 10 Oklahoma at No. 6 Baylor is so important that Baylor officials have removed the tarp that has long covered the bleachers behind the south end zone at Floyd Casey Stadium in order to sell extra tickets. Fans all across the nation will also tune in to see a potential Big 12 game of the year.
But here’s the thing: A long list of candidates remain in contention for that label. With Baylor and Texas undefeated in conference play, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State one game back and Texas Tech lurking with two league losses, the most exciting conference-title chase in the country lives in the Big 12.
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After this week’s must-see game, Texas Tech faces Baylor in Arlington and Oklahoma State travels to Texas on the same weekend. Then Baylor heads to Oklahoma State. Then Texas Tech goes to Texas on Thanksgiving. And, just in case that isn’t enough, the final day of the regular season will feature Texas at Baylor and Oklahoma at Oklahoma State.
“The great thing about college football is that we are in March Madness every week,” Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said. “The regular season is so important.”
The Big 12 championship truly is up for grabs. Four teams control their destinies and another needs minor help if it wins out.
Baylor has to be considered the favorite, because its toughest remaining games are all at home. But the Bears haven’t been in this situation before. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops, Texas coach Mack Brown and Gundy all have more experience winning meaningful games in November and December.
Not that Briles is intimidated.
“The big stage deal is just what it is,” Briles said. “Every conference game is a big game. It just happened to end this way. The good thing about our program is nothing exists after Thursday night.”
Baylor players will train themselves to think that way. Everyone else will look forward to the next month with great anticipation.
“This last month there are a lot of great games and so much to be decided,” Stoops said. “Everyone is very much aware of that. It will be important for everyone, and for us, to continue to play well and rise up and hopefully win those games.”
Oklahoma State quarterback Clint Chelf has one of the most interesting stories of the season. He came into the year fighting for the starting spot with J.W. Walsh, but was named the backup following the season opener.
He was clearly frustrated by the benching, but he has worked his way back into the starting lineup. Following a strong effort at Texas Tech in which he had 211 yards and a touchdown passing and 88 yards and two touchdowns running, he was named Big 12 offensive player of the week.
Too bad Chelf isn’t allowed to speak about the honor. Gundy is not letting any of his quarterbacks talk to the media.
“Ever since we have started the year,” Gundy recently told reporters, “there has been nothing but media opinion on who should play quarterback and there is not really anything they can say about themselves or each other that is productive for the overall chemistry of the team.”
No ranking for Texas
Texas regularly benefits from its tradition-rich past in the preseason polls. That’s what makes its current absence from the Top 25 so surprising.
The Longhorns deservedly fell out of the national polls following back-to-back losses to BYU and Mississippi. They have since won five straight, and sit atop the Big 12 standings. Yet they are not ranked.
Brown doesn’t understand why.
“We’ve played like a Top 25 team enough the last five weeks that I think we should be ranked,” Brown said.
New quarterback at Iowa State
Grant Rohach didn’t accomplish much in place of Sam Richardson last week. The Iowa State quarterback threw for 88 yards and rushed for 13 during a 41-7 loss at Kansas State.
But with the Cyclones winless in Big 12 games, coach Paul Rhoads is looking for something, anything really, to spark his offense. So Rohach, a 6-foot-1 freshman, will get the start this weekend against TCU.
Ryan Mueller: The former K-State walk-on was named Big 12 defensive player of the week after making seven tackles and a sack against Iowa State.
Jace Amaro: The Texas Tech tight end could succeed in the NFL right now.
Tramaine Thompson: No one in the Big 12 makes difficult catches seem easier.
Chelf: The OSU quarterback was so dominant against Texas Tech that he won Big 12 offensive player of the week with two interceptions.
Gary Patterson: The Big 12 isn’t treating TCU as well as the Mountain West did.
Rhoads: Iowa State will give him time to get things right, but the Cyclones are heading in the wrong direction.
Davis Webb: Texas Tech quarterback threw the ball 71 times. Only two of those attempts were for touchdowns.
Case McCoy: He chose a good game to throw two interceptions. Against any other opponent than Kansas, he might have been benched.
Ranking this week’s games
Don’t miss it: Oklahoma at Baylor (Thursday).
Worth watching: K-State at Texas Tech, Texas at West Virginia.
Find something else to do: TCU at Iowa State, Kansas at Oklahoma State.
Big 12 power rankings
1. Baylor (7-0, 4-0): The Bears have never played in a bigger game than Thursday’s clash with Oklahoma.
2. Texas (6-2, 5-0): Longhorns shouldn’t be punished for two early losses any further. They deserve to be ranked.
3. Oklahoma State (7-1, 4-1): Starting to play like the preseason favorite to win the conference.
4. Oklahoma (7-1, 4-1): If Stoops wants another Big 12 title, Oklahoma needs to beat Baylor.
5. Texas Tech (7-2, 4-2): Red Raiders must beat K-State to keep national ranking and contender status.
6. Kansas State (4-4, 2-3): Wildcats have the talent to finish as strong as anyone.
7. West Virginia (4-5, 2-4): If the Big 12 produces seven bowl teams, the Mountaineers will be No. 7.
8. TCU (3-6, 1-5): Unless they win out, the Horned Frogs aren’t going to a bowl game.
9. Kansas (2-6, 0-5): Charlie Weis still has two legitimate shots at ending the Jayhawks’ Big 12 losing streak.
10. Iowa State (1-7, 0-5): Cyclones aren’t even competing in conference games anymore.