One month into the 2013 season, the question of who can challenge the SEC for the top spot in college football remains the same.
The usual suspects—Clemson, Ohio State, Oregon and Stanford—are still in the mix. But since this is the Big 12 blog, we have to ask: is there in any team in this conference that's a contender to play in the final BCS championship before College Football Playoff begins in 2014?
Let's start by looking at the three undefeated teams left: Baylor, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. While Oklahoma State shouldn't be automatically discarded to win a Big 12 title just because the Cowboys lost to West Virginia last Saturday, the reality is their national championship hopes are slim to none right about now.
To put it another way, Oklahoma State would need to win out, have WVU put together a respectable season, and need a lot of help to even think about a national championship appearance.
So here are the teams that, two months from now, could potentially be in a spot to contend for a national championship:
Record: 3-0 (0-0)
Next game: West Virginia
Key games: Nov. 7 vs. Oklahoma; Nov. 23 at Oklahoma State
Why they will contend for a national championship: There is, literally speaking, no team in college football averaging more points per game than the Bears right now. Even more terrifying is the fact that, of Baylor's 209 points in three games, only 10 have come during the fourth quarter (hat tip on that little stat goes to David Ubben of Fox Sports Southwest).
That means Baylor is doing offensively what most teams would only dream of doing... in three quarters of play each game. Granted, Wofford, Buffalo and Louisiana-Monroe aren't the best litmus tests, but it's difficult to ignore a stat that insane.
Even if Baylor can't keep scoring 70 points a game, you have to wonder if there's any team in the Big 12 who can keep up.
The defense is playing well too. According to official NCAA stats, the Bears rank third nationally in turnover margin and four of those turnovers have been returned for scores.
Why they will not contend for a national championship: Some team comes along and does to Baylor what Baylor did to Kansas State last year.
Take TCU, for example. The Horned Frogs have the talent to compete for a Big 12 title, but have struggled to put it all together through the first four games of the season. But what if the Frogs get on a roll by the time Baylor comes to Fort Worth on Nov. 30th? Things could get weird.
Sound like a team the Bears might know from 2012?
Record: 4-0 (1-0)
Next game: TCU
Key games: Nov. 7 at Baylor: Dec. 7 at Oklahoma State
Why they will contend for a national championship: If the Sooners win the rest of their games, their resume would be impressive with road victories over Notre Dame, Baylor and Oklahoma State. No other Big 12 team would be able to say they've done more.
Now that Blake Bell is the starting quarterback, the offense looks more complete and has picked up some steam over the past couple of weeks. It's not as potent as Baylor's, but there are plenty of playmakers and some receivers are emerging opposite Jalen Saunders.
Oklahoma is balanced as any team offensively in the Big 12 and proved it has the confidence to win on the road.
Why they will not contend for a national championship: The defense has improved a lot from last year, but it gave up a couple of big plays on the ground against Notre Dame and another big run to West Virginia in Week 2.
Big plays happen, it's about limiting them as much as possible. But going up against the likes of Baylor or Oklahoma State, it's fair to wonder if the Sooners will be able to contain the Big 12's best offenses.
Record: 4-0 (1-0)
Next game: at Kansas
Key games: Oct. 26 at Oklahoma; Nov. 28 at Texas
Why they will contend for a national championship: Admittedly, we're stretching a little more by mentioning the Red Raiders and a national championship in the same sentence. But Texas Tech is undefeated and could very well remain that way until its Oct. 26 game against Oklahoma, so we have to give them some respect.
This is a team that's relying on its defense right now. Interestingly enough, Tech isn't outstanding in any one defensive statistical category except the one that counts: points allowed. In that area, the Red Raiders currently rank 10th nationally.
It'll be interesting to see if the offense can pick up again after a bit of a lull over the past couple of weeks. But this is a team that has shown it can win ugly—and a little weird.
Why they will not contend for a national championship: Things get much more difficult from a scheduling standpoint once that Oct. 26 game against Oklahoma kicks off. The Red Raiders face arguably the Big 12's top five teams in the final stretch of the season. Of the three Big 12 teams that are undefeated, Texas Tech will have the hardest time staying that way.
What would prevent a Big 12 team from contending for a national title?
First, and simply put, this conference still feels wide open. A nine-win team could end up winning the Big 12 this year and it wouldn't be all that surprising. If the Oklahoma State-West Virginia game taught us anything, it's that the Big 12 has the potential to be all sorts of crazy.
But let's assume there's a team that does get through unscathed. The other thing to remember is that the perception of the Big 12 is down, that it's somewhere in the conversation of the fourth-best BCS conference right now. The best win by any team in the league from a non-conference standpoint is Oklahoma's road victory over Notre Dame.
If Baylor was undefeated at the end of the season alongside a Pac-12 team—say, Oregon—or Clemson, and those schools were jockeying for one spot in the BCS championship, there would be no question about it. The Big 12 team would be left out. If the undefeated team was Oklahoma, that may work out differently.
That's a conversation for another day later down the road, though. But, it would be fun to see a team like Baylor get its shot to play on the biggest stage in college football.
Whether or not that happens remains to be seen. Which is why all any of us can do is enjoy the season.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All quotes and information obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval.
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