At this crucial phase of the season, the list of teams with National Championship dreams has been whittled down to a manageable size. Some teams control their own destiny. Some teams need help. Others may simply realign their goals. Those that control their destiny may be further examined by the relative ease of their path.
The Longhorns have a critical road matchup in Lubbock against a very potent Texas Tech team—not nearly the bad blood that other rivalries have, but certainly mutual respect.
Should Texas survive their historically brutal stretch (four teams that have all been ranked in the top 10 and have a combined record of 28-4), they get a home date with a suddenly uppity traditional punching bag in Baylor. Then a roady to face Kansas. Then a Turkey day Battle Royale with arch nemesis Texas A&M. Two of those three are in Austin.
The Tide faces a series of curious games. Arkansas State should go quietly, but they don't mind mixing it up with BCS schools. The biggest test remains at LSU in what will now be a make or break for the Tigers. The bayou is always a tough spot to win for the visitors.
Then comes a home game with supremely beatable Mississippi State, followed by another home date with archrival Auburn. As with Texas, the big rivalry game is looking more like a formality to close the regular season.
Tough to see them losing, but Iowa could be pesky at home. Indiana could help their operating budget by canceling their flight. Then comes what could be a monumental game against Michigan State. Sparty has but one conference loss and could be playing for a trip to the Rose Bowl for the first time in a while.
Minnesota could REALLY toss a turd in the punch bowl if they can manage what now looks like a manageable home stretch, but that still requires a Penn State loss somewhere.
The winner of the Cocktail Party slugfest this weekend gets to continue to hope for one of the biggies to slip up. The loser will become the spoiler for others.
Oklahoma/Oklahoma State/Texas Tech
The Round Robin from hell started last week. The top four in the Big 12 South have a combined 30-2 (both at the hands of No. 1 Texas, mind you) record and four of the top 10 offenses in the NCAA. Tech controls their destiny starting this week vs. Texas. The rest are simply trying to survive for BCS at-large berths.
Here is a very talented and dangerous team that no one wants to play. Heavy favorites the rest of the way, they look as though their Corvallis blemish may be the only one. Some years that might be acceptable, but this does not look to be one of those years.
The fly in the ointment is the presence of conference championship games. Any BCS conference that gets an automatic bid SHOULD have to play in a conference championship—but that may be a topic for another day.
As it stands, the Big 11 and the Pac 1+9 are not on task with the other major players. Winning your division in the SEC or Big 12 gets you a late season game against another highly ranked team—usually in the top 10 or so. That is some kind of reward for taking care of your business.
What may well happen is that attrition will leave us with one undefeated and a slew of great one-loss teams, and then will come the lobbying/beauty contest. I think we can all take our sides with fervor when that time comes.
Enjoy the ride, folks—it is going to be a good one!