Big 12 heads into homestretch with several bowl bids up for grabs
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Big 12's attention is on Kansas State's national championship dreams, yet there is plenty left to be decided in the conference over the final weeks.
Six teams are bowl eligible, with Iowa State, West Virginia and Baylor still battling for chances to fill out the league's bowl slots.
Kansas State (10-0, 7-0 Big 12) can clinch at least a share of its first conference championship since 2003 with a win Saturday night at Baylor. The Wildcats moved into the top spot in the Bowl Championship Series rankings after Alabama lost to Texas A&M.
"We're just honored to be there," Kansas State coach Bill Snyder said Monday. "I'm just going to encourage our guys to not change the way we approach things and try to stay grounded."
With conferences limited to two teams in BCS bowls, four schools from the Southeastern Conference currently ranked in the top 10 will be left out, opening chances for teams like No. 13 Oklahoma and No. 18 Texas. If Kansas State gets the league's automatic berth, the Sooners and Longhorns would be eliminated from consideration for at-large berths with another loss.
"There's a lot of scenarios by the end of the year for everybody," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. "Everybody wants to define it already. Let's face it, everybody had Alabama already going undefeated and that didn't happen. So there's a lot that's going to happen in the next 2-3 weeks. There's a lot of scenarios. Let's just keep playing and doing our part."
The Sooners (7-2, 5-1) have won five straight conference games since losing the opener to Kansas State. Oklahoma has road games remaining at Big 12 newcomers West Virginia and TCU sandwiched around the Nov. 24 rivalry game at home with Oklahoma State.
To stay in BCS contention, the Longhorns (8-2, 5-2) would need a home win on Thanksgiving against a TCU team that's 3-1 on the road in conference play, then beat Kansas State in the regular-season finale on Dec. 1 in Manhattan, Kan.
Texas has won four straight since back-to-back losses to West Virginia and Oklahoma raised new speculation that Longhorns coach Mack Brown may consider retiring. Not only did Brown quickly dismiss the suggestions, his players have turned the season around.
"The guys have just understood that we didn't play well at times against West Virginia. We didn't play well at all against Oklahoma," Brown said. "I think they just circled the wagons. Young guys are growing up on defense. The offense continues to build and grow.
"The biggest thing is they quit listening to any outside sources and went back to work. And they understood that the only thing that's important when it comes to football is the product that we put on the field. And for two weeks, the product wasn't very good and it needed to get better. Now we've got to finish strong."
Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and TCU are bowl eligible. Not counting the BCS, the Big 12 has tie-ins to seven bowls and would look for a possible open slot elsewhere if more Big 12 teams than bowls are available.
Iowa State (5-5, 2-5) plays at one-win Kansas on Saturday and finishes the regular season at home against West Virginia on Nov. 23. The Cyclones are looking for their second straight bowl appearance.
Over the summer, the Oklahoma-West Virginia game was envisioned as having title implications.
Instead, West Virginia (5-4, 2-4) is fighting to keep a 10-year streak of going to bowls intact. The Mountaineers have lost four straight games, their longest losing streak in 11 years.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen still envisions Oklahoma's first visit to Morgantown as exciting, especially for the fans.
"They've had it circled for a while because OU is such a storied program," Holgorsen said.
In addition to playing Oklahoma and Iowa State, West Virginia finishes the regular season at home Dec. 1 against Kansas.
Baylor (4-5, 1-5) needs two wins in its final three games to have the chance of going to an unprecedented third straight bowl.
The Bears' uphill trek starts Saturday at home against Kansas State, followed by a Nov. 24 matchup with No. 23 Texas Tech at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, and a Dec. 1 home game against Oklahoma State.