The November to Remember in the Big 12 has finally arrived.
A Big 12 title will be decided.
A playoff berth will be forged.
The Big 12 schedule-makers couldn’t have drawn it up any better. Beginning Saturday with TCU’s trip to Oklahoma State, the Big 12’s top four teams — both in the preseason poll and now — will face off in a college football version of WrestleMania.
"It's unbelievable,” TCU coach Gary Patterson said. “You’ve got four teams that are 30-1.
“And we’ve all got to play each other.”
That was the silver lining in an otherwise demoralizing College Football Playoff ranking, in which no Big 12 team opened in the top five.
Baylor and TCU came in at Nos. 6 and 8, respectively, behind one-loss teams Alabama and Notre Dame. At No. 14, Oklahoma State was the lowest-ranked unbeaten Power 5 program. Oklahoma debuted at 15th, well behind five other one-loss teams.
Yet while the other power conferences already have staged many of their high-profile games, the Big 12 is just getting warmed up.
Next weekend, Oklahoma travels to Baylor. The Saturday after that, Baylor goes to Oklahoma State, while TCU heads to Norman. Then on Thanksgiving Weekend, Bedlam follows a Black Friday Revivalry in Fort Worth.
“There’s not going to be a better place in the country to watch football,” said SEC Network and college football analyst Paul Finebaum, “than in the Big 12 in November.”
As a result, the collective remaining schedule will allow the Big 12 contenders to play their way up. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Oklahoma State has the second-toughest remaining schedule in the country. Baylor has the ninth-toughest, closely followed by Oklahoma (11th) and TCU (22nd). Of the CFP top 15-ranked teams, only LSU (1st) and Stanford (18th) have comparable remaining schedules.
“You get an opportunity to play in a national spotlight, play undefeated teams, the games mean something, you have your say,” Patterson said. “There’s a bottom line to them.”
There is, of course, the danger the Big 12 will knock itself out of the playoff picture. Given the first set of rankings, no Big 12 team can bank on having any margin for error. But in December, the committee also won’t be able to claim the Big 12 champ didn't earn its way.
"If those four teams just beat each other up, it's going to be tough at the end," said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, whose Mountaineers have faced all four Big 12 opponents consecutively. “But if one team prevails, we'll have a great chance to be able to get somebody in."
Who that team might be is anybody’s guess.
Baylor has cruised through the first two months of the season, defeating every opponent by at least 17 points. But the Bears also will be riding into the stretch with a true freshman quarterback in Jarrett Stidham, who has yet to take a meaningful snap. Stidham, however, was one of the top quarterback signees in the country, and has impressed in limited time.
“I’ve been doing it 37 years, and I’d be totally shocked if he’s not very composed, very competitive, very intelligent and very on cue,” Baylor coach Art Briles said of Stidham, who took over after Seth Russell suffered a season-ending neck injury. “You go by what you’ve seen and what you feel, and what you’ve been subjected to.
“He’s a ready quarterback.”
The Horned Frogs not only have a ready quarterback but the best quarterback in college football. Trevone Boykin leads the country in QBR and has turned the Heisman into a two-man race with LSU running back Leonard Fournette.
The Horned Frogs also are beginning to find their way defensively. Thanks to the return of linemen Davion Pierson, Mike Tuaua and Terrell Lathan, the Horned Frogs have allowed just 10 points over the last seven quarters.
"Now that we've got guys back every week, we've played a little bit better, and I expect them to keep doing that as we go along, even though the competition is going to get tough," Patterson said. "That's what you have to do if you want to try to win a championship."
Oklahoma seems to be surging at the right time, as well.
Since the stunning loss to Texas, the Sooners have outscored the opposition, 180-34. A rejuvenated running game behind Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon has fueled the surge; over the last three weeks; Oklahoma leads all Power 5 offenses with 902 yards on the ground.
"The more effective you are, the better you are running the football," Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops said. “We're executing really well.”
Though inconsistent at times, Oklahoma State has been executing at its best when it matters most. The Cowboys trailed or were tied with Central Michigan, Texas, Kansas State, West Virginia and Texas Tech and came back to win all four games with terrific fourth quarters.
The Cowboys also have the scheduling advantage, with TCU, Baylor and Oklahoma all traveling to Stillwater.
“We knew that November was going to be a difficult stretch,” receiver David Glidden said. “That if we could make it to this point, we'd have a shot. That’s really all we could ask for."
The Cowboys will have their shot. So will the Sooners, Horned Frogs and Bears.
November has arrived finally in the Big 12. The month in which a title will be decided. And playoff hopefuls will be shaped.