Oregon's loss is the Big 12's gain. Literally.
In an upset-filled season that has seen lots of teams play their way into, out of, and back into the national championship picture, the Big 12 suddenly has the next three teams in line to join top-ranked LSU in the BCS championship game. With No. 2 Oregon out of the picture after Thursday's loss to unranked Arizona, the next three teams in the current BCS standings are No. 3 Kansas, No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 5 Missouri.
The problem is, two of them are guaranteed to lose between now and Dec. 2 -- one in the Mizzou-Kansas game on Nov. 24 and another in the Big 12 championship game on Dec. 1, which projects as the MU-KU winner vs. OU. The upside, from a BCS standpoint, is that whoever wins the Big 12 championship game will have beaten a quality opponent on Dec. 1 and should not be jumped by another team in the final BCS standings on Dec. 2.
The challenge, of course, is for the Big 3 from the Big 12 to hold serve this weekend against unranked league opponents to set up some games with national implications on Nov. 24 and Dec. 1. Heading into Saturday's games, I'd say all three are eligible to become upset victims but Missouri seems most vulnerable.
The Tigers (9-1) are headed to Kansas State (5-5), where they will face a talented but inconsistent team that is desperate to win its final home game to become bowl eligible. K-State, which is coming off consecutive road losses to Nebraska and Iowa State, does not want to put itself in a must-win situation on Nov. 24 at Fresno State to become bowl-eligible.
So, expect the Wildcats to look like a different team Saturday in Manhattan, Kan. (where they are 4-1 this season) than the clueless bunch that got run out of the stadium last week by Nebraska, 73-31. Expect K-State to look much more like the team that throttled Texas, 41-21, in Austin on Sept. 30.
Missouri, by the way, has not won a game at K-State since 1989. The Tigers are 1-13 in the teams' last 14 meetings. So you can expect a little angst on the Mizzou sideline if K-State grabs an early lead (likely). The key will be whether coach Gary Pinkel and team leaders like QB Chase Daniel allow that to morph into full-fledged panic. I think Daniel is as clutch as they come. Pinkel? Not so much. Mizzou fans better hope the Tigers feed off their QB, not their coach, if/when adversity hits in Manhattan.
As for the other two Big 12 teams, Oklahoma plays at Texas Tech. Any trip to Lubbock is dangerous for the visiting team because of Tech's explosive offense. OU's offense has been far more productive inside the state of Oklahoma (54.4 pts per game) than in other states (23 pts per game) in 2007. Look for a tight struggle but the Sooners' defense should allow OU to escape with title hopes intact.
Kansas? The Jayhawks (10-0) play at home against an Iowa State team that is 3-8 but has won two in a row. Although KU has never won 11 games in any season in school history, this is the year. They've got the right opponent in the right venue to make it happen. I'm more concerned about KU falling in subsequent games when the pressure mounts against Mizzou and OU (if the teams meet in the Big 12 championship game).
On a 1-10 scale of Saturday upset alerts for the Big 3 in the Big 12, I'd give Mizzou a 9, OU a 6 and Kansas a 3. If not for the presence of Chase Daniel, in fact, I'd pick K-State to pull the upset. But I think he'll carry the day and the Big 12's big opportunity for BCS glory will continue with three times in the mix for another week.
_ Jimmy Burch