The Big 12 "November to Remember" kicked off Saturday with an epic performance and stunning result.
The "Hey, Remember Us?" State Cowboys lassoed TCU behind James Washington's gazelle-like touchdowns, Mason Rudolph's pinpoint downfield passing and a tenacious collective defensive effort headlined by relentless defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, who surely has the Lombardi Trophy electorate wishing they could convene a re-vote.
After Week 1 of winning season in the Big 12, the conference title race still remains a four-team slugfest. But the first Saturday of November likely also whittled the Big 12's playoff contenders down to three, with Oklahoma State supplanting the Horned Frogs as one of the league's playoff front-runners.
That number is about to get trimmed again.
This time with ESPN's “College GameDay” trekking to the house that RG III built, where Oklahoma will face off against Baylor in Round 2 of this monthlong Big 12 elimination prizefight.
“This is one I've been waiting on, man,” receiver Sterling Shepard said Saturday night after the Sooners bloodied Iowa State, 52-16. “Teammates are very excited. We just got hyped up in the locker room. We're ready to get after that.”
This past weekend, Oklahoma State was quietly ready and waiting after being overlooked in the College Football Playoff selection committee's first set of rankings. The Cowboys forced the committee to take notice by doing their talking inside Boone Pickens Stadium with a rout of an opponent who hadn't tasted defeat since October 2014. In Oklahoma's maiden voyage to Sailgate Stadium, the Sooners and Bears will meet in yet another monster Big 12 showdown.
“It's hard to sustain, to survive, but that's going to be our mantra,” said Baylor coach Art Briles. “We're going to be the team that's there when it's all said and done, hopefully."
Even after Saturday's debacle, TCU still holds some faint hope of at least sneaking back into the playoff conversation, should mass chaos ensue everywhere from Clemson and Columbus to Stanford and South Bend. But the loser of Baylor-Oklahoma will have no such silver lining on which to fall back.
The Sooners already have a loss, and a disastrous one at that. At this point, Texas seems more likely to erect a statue to commemorate the Steve Patterson era than to qualify for a bowl. Baylor, meanwhile, conceded its margin for error long ago when it allowed SMU, Lamar and Rice to stick on the nonconference schedule.
“This is going to be like a playoff game,” said Oklahoma center Ty Darlington.
“It's win or go home.”
The winner will have further hurdles to clear. The Sooners will have to stave off an angry and talented TCU team that still boasts the best quarterback in college football before journeying up Interstate 35 for Bedlam, which knows late-game drama as well as any other in-state rivalry going. The Bears will have to win at both Stillwater and Fort Worth in the span of just six days.
In the meantime, with the spotlight descending on Waco, Saturday offers both Baylor and Oklahoma the opportunity to deliver their own messages to the committee.
ESPN's Football Power Index , which evaluates how teams might fare against an average opponent on a neutral site, ranks Oklahoma first and Baylor second nationally.
But in the minds of the committee, that appears to ring hollow for the moment.
Since the Red River fiasco, the Sooners have steamrolled the opposition, winning by an average margin of 45.5 points per game. No Power 5 offense has rushed for more yards this last month than Oklahoma, which has unleashed the dynamic running back duo of Samaje Perine and Joe Mixon on hapless defenses.
And yet, the Sooners debuted in the playoff rankings behind fellow one-loss teams Alabama, Notre Dame, Florida, Stanford and Utah.
“Everybody on the team has a chip on their shoulder,” said cornerback Dakota Austin.
The Bears should have a similar chip on their shoulders. Only Kansas State has played Baylor to within single digits this season. Yet, despite so far passing the so-called eye test by any conceivable measure, the Bears opened at sixth in the rankings.
“I'm not concerned with what anybody else thinks, we feel like we're a team of survivors,” Briles said. “A bunch of tough guys who have been through a lot. You can talk bad about us, say what you want.
“But when you look up in November, we're still around.”
The Cowboys most definitely are still around in the playoff race. But there'll be room for only one more from the conference.
It's win-or-go-home time again in the Big 12, as the "November to Remember" rolls right along to McLane Stadium.
“We know this is going to be a tough team to beat,” Shepard said. “But with the way we've been playing, we feel like we're going to be a tough team to beat, too.”