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Monday, November 24, 2008
Updated: November 25, 11:47 AM ET
On The Mark: Deciphering the Big 12 South

By Mark Schlabach
ESPN.com

Big 12 Shakeout

And you thought the political season was finally behind us.

You haven't seen anything yet.

Bob Stoops

Tim Heitman/US Presswire

Bob Stoops is already trying to swing some voters to the OU side.

With the Big 12 South possibly headed toward a dreaded three-way tie between Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech, coaches and officials from all sides are looking for the nearest soapbox.

If the Sooners, Longhorns and Red Raiders win their final regular-season games this week, they'll finish tied atop the Big 12 South. The South representative would be decided by which team is ranked highest in the second to last BCS standings. The Big 12 South winner will play Missouri in the Dec. 6 Big 12 championship game in Kansas City.

If the Big 12 South champion wins the Big 12 title, it figures to play for the BCS National Championship.

So all sides are moving quickly to garner public support.

"If you can't move us in front of Texas because they beat us, then you have to keep Texas Tech in front of Texas," Sooners coach Bob Stoops told reporters after the Texas Tech win. "If it's logical for one, then it's logical for the other."

The Sooners' victory was more than enough to impress voters in the Harris Interactive Poll and USA Today/coaches' Top 25 poll, two of the three components weighted equally in the BCS formula.

"When you look at what's happening, you're seeing emotional voters," Texas coach Mack Brown said on ESPN's First Take.

"Saturday night, watching Oklahoma play and play so well, emotionally the voters jumped them up some."

As for the transitive property applying to this scenario, Brown's not ready to go there yet.

"I heard Bob's [OU coach Bob Stoops] analogy about who beats who and that kind of stuff," Brown said. "I'm not getting into all that today because we got some work to do on Thursday night."

The final BCS standings will determine the two teams that will play for the BCS National Championship in south Florida on Jan. 8.

Oklahoma moved to the No. 2 spot in the coaches' poll, jumping ahead of Florida and Texas. The Sooners are No. 3 in the Harris poll behind No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Florida.

Texas is No. 4 in both human polls. But thanks to the Longhorns' average ranking in the six computer polls used in the BCS formula, they remain No. 2 in the BCS standings -- a minuscule .0084 percentage points ahead of No. 3 Oklahoma.

The Big 12 rivals are so close in the BCS standings that conventional wisdom says the Sooners will jump the Longhorns if both teams win this week. Texas will play at home against Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). Oklahoma will play at No. 12 Oklahoma State on Saturday night (ABC, 8 p.m. ET).

The Sooners will have the last chance to impress voters, and their strength of schedule will improve if they beat the Cowboys. So a win at Oklahoma State probably would be enough to propel the Sooners ahead of the Longhorns.

It shouldn't happen.

Texas beat the Sooners 45-35 on a neutral field in the Cotton Bowl on Oct. 11. A head-to-head victory should trump any tiebreaker.

And, when weighing each of the three Big 12 teams' respective bodies of work, the Longhorns have the strongest argument for selection:

Losses

Oklahoma: The Sooners twice led the Longhorns by 11 points and had an eight-point lead in the third quarter at the Cotton Bowl. But Texas scored two touchdowns in the game's final 7:37 to win 45-35 in Dallas. The Longhorns beat a No. 1 Oklahoma team for the first time since a 28-7 victory in 1963. It also was the first time the Sooners had lost a regular-season game under Stoops when scoring at least 35 points.

Texas: The No. 1 Longhorns trailed then-No. 7 Texas Tech 19-0 in the first half and 22-6 at the half in Lubbock, Texas, on Nov. 1. The Longhorns rallied and took a 33-32 lead on Vondrell McGee's 4-yard touchdown run with 1:29 to play. But after Texas dropped what would have been a game-clinching interception, the Red Raiders won 39-33 on Graham Harrell's 28-yard touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree with one second left.

Texas Tech: There's no other way to say it: The Red Raiders were embarrassed by Oklahoma on Saturday night. The 65-21 loss was the second-worst defeat ever by a No. 2-ranked team in the Associated Press Top 25 poll. Texas Tech avoided the worst defeat by a No. 2 team when Harrell threw a 27-yard touchdown to Detron Lewis with 11 seconds to play.

Advantage: Texas. (The Sooners lost on a neutral field; Texas lost on the road.)

Victories

Oklahoma: The Sooners have a couple of very impressive nonconference wins. Oklahoma beat Cincinnati 52-26 in Norman on Sept. 6. The Bearcats are 9-2 and one victory away from winning the Big East title. The Sooners also walloped TCU 35-10 in Norman on Sept. 27. The Horned Frogs finished the regular season with a 10-2 record and are No. 14 in the BCS standings.

Texas: Along with beating Oklahoma, Texas hammered Big 12 North champion Missouri 56-31 in Austin, Texas. The Longhorns beat Oklahoma State 28-24 and won at Kansas 35-7.

Texas Tech: Texas Tech beat Nevada 35-19 and SMU 43-7. Along with beating the Longhorns, the Red Raiders crushed Oklahoma State 56-20 and won at Kansas 63-21 in Big 12 play.

Advantage: Texas. (The Sooners would have four very impressive victories if they beat Oklahoma State. But the Longhorns would have the only victory that matters -- a win over the Sooners.)

Strength of schedule

Oklahoma: Two of Oklahoma's 10 victories came against two of the worst teams in college football. The Sooners beat Chattanooga (a 1-11 FCS program) in their Aug. 30 opener and also defeated Washington, which just lost to Washington State to fall to 0-11. Oklahoma didn't play Big 12 North champion Missouri during conference play. The Sooners' 11 opponents have a combined record of 66-58.

Texas: The Longhorns didn't play an FCS opponent and beat UTEP 42-13 on the road. They also beat defending Sun Belt champion Florida Atlantic 52-10 and Rice 52-10. The Owls are 8-3 and are still in contention to play for the Conference USA championship. Texas beat an SEC opponent, Arkansas, 52-10. The Longhorns' 11 opponents have a combined record of 79-54.

Texas Tech: The Red Raiders had no margin for error because they played two FCS opponents, beating Eastern Washington 49-24 and Massachusetts 56-14. Texas Tech's 11 opponents have a combined record of 71-52.

Advantage: Texas. (No FCS opponents were on the schedule, and it played Missouri.)

Oklahoma is the hot team as the regular season comes to an end. But Texas is a better team.

The Longhorns have already proved it on the field.



WEEK: Preseason | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14

On The Mark: Conference races

ACC

1. ACC

Atlantic: Boston College would win the division with a victory versus Maryland on Saturday night. FSU would win the division if the Eagles lose.
Coastal: Virginia Tech would win the division with a victory over Virginia on Saturday; Georgia Tech would win the division if the Hokies lose.

2. Big East
Cincinnati can win its first Big East title if it beats Syracuse on Saturday. West Virginia would win the league if it beats Pittsburgh and South Florida, and Cincinnati loses.

3. Big Ten
Penn State and Ohio State share the title, but the Nittany Lions earned a trip to the Rose Bowl by beating Michigan State 49-18 on Saturday.

4. Conference USA
East: East Carolina clinched the division with its 17-13 victory at UAB on Saturday.
West: Houston can win the division by winning at Rice on Saturday. Tulsa would win the division if it beats Marshall and Houston loses. The Owls would win the division if they beat Houston and Marshall beats Tulsa.

5. MAC
East: Buffalo won the division by beating Bowling Green 40-34 in overtime Friday night.
West: Ball State has clinched at least a share of the division title and will win it outright if it beats Western Michigan on Tuesday night.

6. Mountain West
Utah won the conference by beating rival BYU 48-24 on Saturday.

7. Pac-10
Oregon State would win the conference and earn its first trip to the Rose Bowl since 1965 if it beats Oregon on Saturday. USC would win the conference title if Oregon State loses and it beats UCLA on Dec. 6.

8. SEC
East: Florida has won the division and will play Alabama in the Dec. 6 SEC championship game.
West: Alabama has won the division.

9. Sun Belt
Troy would win the conference if it beats Arkansas State on Dec 6.

10. WAC
Boise State won the conference with its 41-34 victory at Nevada on Saturday.

Off The Mark: Bowl-jeopardy losses

Virginia

1. Virginia
The Cavaliers' 13-3 loss to Clemson dropped their record to 5-6. Virginia will have to win at Virginia Tech on Saturday to finish 6-6.

2. Louisville
The Cardinals lost their fourth game in a row, 35-21, to West Virginia. They must win at Rutgers on Dec. 4 to finish 6-6.

3. Memphis
The Tigers lost at home to Central Florida 28-21 to drop their record to 5-6. Memphis will have to beat Tulane on Saturday to finish 6-6.

4. Florida Atlantic
The defending Sun Belt champions lost at Arkansas State 28-14, dropping their record to 5-6. The Owls will have to beat Florida International on Saturday to become bowl-eligible.

5. UTEP
The Miners fell 42-37 at Houston, dropping their record to 5-6. They must win at East Carolina on Friday to finish 6-6.

• To see all the teams eligible for bowl games this season, click here.

On The Mark: Rivalries That Still Matter

Oregon State

1. Oregon at Oregon State
The Beavers must win the Civil War to share the Pac-10 title and earn their first trip to the Rose Bowl in more than four decades.

2. South Carolina at Clemson
The Tigers can become bowl-eligible if they beat the Gamecocks at Death Valley.

3. Florida at Florida State
The Seminoles would love to spoil the Gators' national title hopes. Florida is 1-3-1 when playing at FSU a week before playing in the SEC championship game.

4. West Virginia at Pitt
The Panthers ended the Mountaineers' BCS title hopes with a 13-9 victory last season. Pitt can end West Virginia's fading Big East title hopes with another victory Friday.

5. Georgia Tech at Georgia
Locals call the rivalry "Clean, Old-Fashioned Hate." The Bulldogs would hate for first-year Yellow Jackets coach Paul Johnson to spoil their season.

Off The Mark: Fading Down The Stretch

UNLV

1. UNLV
The Rebels had to beat 1-10 San Diego State to become bowl-eligible. They lost the game 42-21.

2. Minnesota
After a surprising 7-1 start, the Gophers lost their last four games, including a 55-0 rout against Iowa on Saturday.

3. Notre Dame
The Fighting Irish blew a 23-10 lead in a 24-23 loss to Syracuse. Notre Dame is 9-16 in its past 25 games and will finish 6-6 unless it upsets USC on Saturday.

4. Illinois
The Illini lost to Northwestern 27-10 on Saturday, dropping their record to 5-7. The Illini went from playing in the Rose Bowl last season to no bowl this year.

5. LSU
The defending national champion lost to Ole Miss 31-13, its third home loss of the season.