The Big 12 has taken its fair share of lumps this season from a national perspective. But next Saturday, Nov. 23, should be billed as one of the more anticipated games of the entire college football season.
That's when Baylor will travel to Stillwater to take on Oklahoma State with major Big 12 and national title implications.
The Cowboys did their part with a 38-13 takedown of Texas in Austin. Baylor, despite a 14-0 first-quarter deficit, took care of the Red Raiders with a 63-34 win in Arlington.
The Bears were banged up heading into Week 12. Receiver Tevin Reese is out for the rest of the regular season with a dislocated wrist, and neither Lache Seastrunk (groin) nor Glasco Martin (knee) played at running back.
The difference with this Baylor team is that it has more than enough able skill players to compensate for the losses.
"What we've got to do is figure out who we're going to lean on, how...and when," Baylor coach Art Briles said via the Dallas Morning News earlier this week. "We do have players who are very capable, and it's a great chance for them. ... I'm eager to see how it changes us from a schematic and philosophical standpoint."
The best example of that depth is "third-string" running back Shock Linwood, who had 187 rushing yards against the Red Raiders. It was the second game in a row where Linwood went over 180 yards (182 versus Oklahoma).
But Baylor likes to rotate its running backs, so Linwood was no stranger to the football field when asked to shoulder the load of the running game in Week 11 against the Sooners.
It's the same philosophy with receiver Levi Norwood, who had three total touchdowns Saturday—two receiving and one on a 58-yard punt return.
It's one thing to be diverse on offense, which the Bears are. They hit opposing defenses with everything from the vertical pass to the power run, all at a blazing tempo. It's another thing entirely to continue to be so when dipping into third- and fourth-string guys.
"Next man up" is a cliche that realistically only applies to a few teams. Baylor is one of them. Briles is going to need to rely on that philosophy again before the year is up.
The wear and tear of the season is color-blind and without bias. There's going to be no sympathy when the Bears head to Oklahoma State in a week. But this is what Briles and Co. have been building toward. Now, they're going to get their chance against a Cowboys squad that has turned it up a notch or 10 over the past few weeks.
There's also the possibility of inclement weather, which would only add to the intrigue.
The stakes could technically be higher. There could be two undefeated teams with their eyes on a BCS title appearance. With each passing week, Oklahoma State's September loss to West Virginia becomes more and more perplexing. The Cowboys have gotten better; the Mountaineers lost to Kansas, ending the Jayhawks' three-year winless streak in the Big 12.
If there's any offbeat chance that the Pokes could somehow play for a BCS title, it must beat Baylor. And without an undefeated season, the Bears' BCS championship aspirations look grim.
There's a lot to play for, and if nothing else, the winner next Saturday will have a leg up in the conference title race.
It's not the last game of the year, but the battle between the two best teams in the Big 12 is coming at an exciting time.
The conference certainly deserves that kind of finish.
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