There is no need to consult the polls or computer rankings to figure out where at least one part of the Bowl Championship Series title game is expected to come from.
Just go deep in the heart of Texas (and Oklahoma), where one division is currently the epicenter of college football. The Big 12 South, long the strength of its conference, is flexing muscle from sea to shining sea, with four schools in the top eight of the BCS standings, three of them unbeaten.
Texas is No. 1, and quarterback Colt McCoy is atop the Heisman Trophy totem pole. Oklahoma State, sixth in the BCS standings, has a bevy of talented offensive skill players, but perhaps no team compiles yards and points at a faster rate than No. 8 Texas Tech. All have 7-0 records.
And then there is Oklahoma, which is one game off the pace but hardly on the periphery of events. Even with one loss — against Texas — the Sooners are fourth in the BCS standings.
This week, Oklahoma exemplifies the zaniness that is the Big 12 South, as it should be cheering for in-state rival OSU, which visits the Longhorns.
“From what I’ve seen on (ESPN’s) SportsCenter, they can put up some points,” Sooners linebacker Travis Lewis told the Tulsa World of the Cowboys, whose 46.4 points per game ranks fourth nationally. “And I’m not going to lie, I’m rooting for Oklahoma State to win this weekend.
“That would really mix things up in the Big 12 South.”
For Oklahoma State, this is as big a stage as the program has occupied in some time. With games against Texas Tech and Oklahoma remaining, the Cowboys, even if they pull the upset, cannot afford to get star-struck.
“If you try to make one game bigger than the next, then guys might be pressing and trying to do too much,” quarterback Zac Robinson said.
“We’re going to go out and just play the way we do. Our team’s so young that they don’t know any better than to do that.”
Oklahoma is in Manhattan, Kan., to play Kansas State today. Down the highway in Lawrence, Texas Tech begins its annual quest for legitimacy with its first real test of the year, a date with Kansas.
It has become tradition: Early every season, coach Mike Leach’s team posts wins and fattens the offensive statistics against a string of lightweights. In 2008, it was Eastern Washington, Nevada, Southern Methodist and Massachusetts. That’s two championship subdivision schools, for those scoring at home.
Most poll voters are not, as the Red Raiders have not been penalized for that disgraceful slate. The computer component has been less forgiving — ranking Texas Tech 11th — which coach Mike Leach insists is a mystery.
“I just try to avoid computers as much as I can,” Leach said. “Obviously, you need somebody around that knows how to run a computer. And the video is on computers. But to me, anything involving computers is very frustrating, so I ignore it every step that I can.”
If the Red Raiders can navigate a four-game stretch of Kansas, Texas, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma, they will rightly get their rankings due.
“This is the time of year that will make or break us,” offensive lineman Brandon Carter said. “Nothing in the past really matters at this point, and what’s ahead of us is really our biggest competition.”
After everything shakes out through the first week in December, the Big 12 South could remain the epicenter of college football. Remember, the first paragraph of this column said that at least one part of the BCS championship matchup could come from the division.
Red River rivals Texas and Oklahoma might meet again, in Miami, Fla., for the national title. If the SEC keeps playing knockout football and Penn State loses, the Longhorns and Sooners could fill the top two spots in the final BCS standings if they keep winning.
“No one is talking about Texas and OU in the (national title game),” Richard Billingsley, who operates one of the six computer rankings that factor into the BCS standings, told the Daily Oklahoman.
“But it’s a real possibility.”
Colt McCoy: Any questions? The Texas quarterback is the clear Heisman front-runner after flawlessly executing the top-ranked Longhorns’ offense against Missouri last week. With 29 completions in 32 attempts, McCoy was more accurate than a caliper.
Daryll Clark: The Penn State quarterback (1,531 yards, 11 touchdowns passing) has passed Michigan State running back Javon Ringer as the top candidate in the Big Ten.
David Johnson: The Tulsa quarterback is putting up numbers that cannot be ignored. He is the nation’s top-rated passer, with 2,397 yards and 31 touchdowns.
Dez Bryant: The Oklahoma State wide receiver has 11 touchdown catches and has surpassed 200 yards in a game twice this season.
Chase Daniel: The Missouri quarterback, once the favorite, has been outdueled in consecutive games by fellow candidates Sam Bradford of Oklahoma and McCoy. Time for parting gifts.
LESSONS FROM LAST WEEK
• The ACC is as unpredictable as it is subpar. North Carolina was 5-1 and apparently bound for bowl eligibility before stumbling at Virginia, which is salvaging its season. The Cavaliers have won three straight after an awful September in which its only win was against championship-subdivision Richmond.
• Maybe Pittsburgh was worthy of its preseason praise. The Panthers have won five straight since laying an egg in their season opener against Bowling Green and could win the Big East — whatever that is worth these days.
• It is still a stretch to say that Ohio State would beat Southern California if the teams played again, but it would be interesting to see Terrelle Pryor attack the Trojans’ defense for an entire game. The Buckeyes are a much more dynamic offense with Pryor at quarterback.
It is hard to believe for a team that was a preseason No. 1 selection, but Georgia has seemingly been on the periphery of the national-championship discussion since getting overwhelmed by Alabama on Sept. 27.
There is reason to dismiss the Bulldogs. They have been inconsistent on offense, especially in the red zone. They have been hit hard by injuries, particularly on the offensive line. Their remaining schedule is brutal, as the five remaining regular-season foes have a combined 25-8 record — and a rematch with 7-0 Alabama in the SEC title game is possible. And the off-field troubles continue, as two more players were arrested this week.
However, if the Bulldogs can get it together on offense, they have the talent to run the table, And with their schedule, they could make a case as the most deserving one-loss team for the BCS title game.
“We’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot, but a positive thing is that we are still putting up 24 (points),” quarterback Matthew Stafford said. “If we get everything ironed out, we’re scoring 45.”
Washington State, which has been outscored 226-30 in its last four games, might be the worst Pac-10 team ever. Considering that Oregon State had some dreadful squads while going 3-40-1 from 1979-82, that is saying something.
It takes a deft recruiting touch to get elite players to come to Pullman. Mike Price had it while leading the Cougars to two Rose Bowls during his tenure as coach; his successor, Bill Doba, did not. Dismissals and injuries further depleted the roster, leaving a mess that first-year coach Paul Wulff must clean up.
“The program has hit some hard times,” said Wulff, a WSU graduate who played under Dennis Erickson in 1987-88. “It’s just an overall culture that went sideways.”
WSU’s only chance for a conference win this year might be in the Apple Cup against rival Washington, which is also beleaguered.
Texas Tech at Kansas: (9 a.m., ESPN) Finally, the eighth-ranked Red Raiders are tested — and Texas, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma follow. Time to put up or shut up.
Oklahoma State at Texas: (12:30 p.m., pay-per-view) Unfortunately, it will cost Valley fans money to watch this one. In this week’s Game of the Year in the Big 12 South, OSU — which has a recent history of playing the Longhorns tough, then fading — aims to hang in for four quarters.
Penn State at Ohio State: (5 p.m., Ch. 15) In what has been a year of outstanding matchups on ABC’s “Saturday Night College Football,” the next biggie is the de facto Big Ten championship game. The Nittany Lions have not won at Columbus since their 12-0 season in 1994.
Southern California at Arizona: (7:15 p.m., FSN Arizona) The Wildcats could not possibly knock off the mighty Trojans, could they? Could they?
THREE AND OUT
• Michigan’s 34-year bowl streak, the longest in the nation, is in jeopardy. The Wolverines need four wins in their last five games — Michigan State, at Purdue, at Minnesota, Northwestern and at Ohio State — to be eligible for a postseason game.
• Speaking of Michigan, its win against Wisconsin on Sept. 27 knocked the Badgers’ season off the rails. What has happened in Madison? The once-No. 9 Badgers have lost four straight, and coach Bret Bielema is trying to turn things around with a change at quarterback.
• It might become a question of how long, not if, Boston College can keep Jeff Jagodzinski as coach. A year after heavy personnel losses, including star quarterback Matt Ryan, the Eagles are 5-1 and in the thick of the ACC championship chase.
This report includes information from other news sources.