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.
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.
Ranking this week’s games
Big 12 power rankings