The Big 12 is shaping up for a wild November with five teams fighting for a shot at the league’s automatic BCS berth.
Midway through the conference season, the maneuvering isn’t just going on at the top of the standings.
While four teams already are bowl eligible, others are scrapping to fill the remainder of the league’s seven-bowl allotment.
Alongside fifth-ranked Baylor, No. 13 Oklahoma, No. 15 Texas Tech and No. 18 Oklahoma State, it’s unranked Texas (5-2, 4-0) that can take sole possession of first place over the idle Bears with a win at home Saturday against Kansas.
Talk about a turnaround in confidence from a month ago, when the Longhorns were 1-2 after back-to-back blowout losses to BYU and Mississippi. They’ve won four straight since.
“It’s just a change completely,” Texas coach Mack Brown said Monday. “The team now feels like they do have a chance to win the Big 12 championship, which is what their goal has been since January.
“They do understand they’ve got to continue to improve. We still had some issues Saturday night that we can fix. But it’s much easier to fix things when you win.”
The Longhorns, coming off a 30-7 win at TCU, play three of their next four games at home before the regular-season finale at Baylor (7-0, 4-0).
The Bears and Oklahoma (7-1, 4-1) have a bye week to prepare for their Nov. 7 showdown in Waco, Texas. The break will give Sooners coach Bob Stoops some coveted extra time to figure out how to slow down Baylor and quarterback Bryce Petty.
“Great arm. Great poise. Throws a great ball,” Stoops said. “You can tell he has a great understanding of their offense and where he wants to go with everything. He does a great job.”
The Sooners ended Texas Tech’s perfect season with a 38-30 win on Saturday. Now the Red Raiders (7-1, 4-1) have to regroup to play Oklahoma State (6-1, 3-1) at home on Saturday.
The loser will fall two games behind in the loss column in the conference race.
“If you drop one from here on out, you’ve got to get some help to win” a championship, said Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy.
Texas Tech gave up a season high for points to Oklahoma and Kliff Kingsbury said he expects his players to be highly motivated this week against the Cowboys, who’ve beaten the Red Raiders the last two seasons by a combined score of 125-27.
“This is a group that will have a short-term memory,” Kingsbury said.
If Texas joins the others in becoming bowl eligible this week, that would leave a group that includes Kansas State, TCU and West Virginia fighting for the conference’s final two bowl berths.
TCU and West Virginia go head-to-head Saturday in Fort Worth, Texas.
“You turn them into one-game seasons,” said TCU coach Gary Patterson. “You’ve got four left. You’ve got to win three. If you don’t do that, then you go home for Christmas.”
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said he takes “full responsibility” for the lackluster play of his young offense. The Mountaineers (3-5, 1-4) have lost three straight and are trying to continue a streak of bowl berths in 11 straight seasons, while Patterson’s Horned Frogs (3-5, 1-4) have gone to a bowl in eight straight years.
Kansas and Iowa State haven’t been eliminated from postseason contention, but they’ll need remarkable turnarounds for that to happen. For now, they’re playing spoiler roles.
The Jayhawks (2-5, 0-4) have lost 25 consecutive league games, while Iowa State (1-6, 0-4) will be out of bowl contention with another loss. The Cyclones play at Kansas State (3-4, 1-3) on Saturday.
Wildcats coach Bill Snyder said he conducts “State of the Union”-type dialogues with his players every Monday and lately that’s included the bowl scenario, but he said it’s best to quickly put the subject on the backburner.
“It’s probably more damaging to go into the week of preparation for the upcoming ballgame with those kinds of thoughts in your mind,” Snyder said.
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