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Wednesday, December 4, 2013
Big 12: Oh so close ...

By Brandon Chatmon and Max Olson

Oklahoma State is one loss away from being in the thick of the conversation for a Vizio BCS National Championship game berth, injuries and inexperience have slowed Baylor's rise to the top and Texas stood between itself and its chances to make a bigger statement on the national landscape. Even though these three schools' BCS dreams are no longer within their control, all three enter the last weekend of the regular season with the chance to become Big 12 champions.

Oklahoma State Cowboys

Where it all started: The Cowboys opened the season as the Big 12 favorite and as the conference’s top-ranked team at No. 13 in the AP Top 25 and No. 14 in the USA Today Coaches Poll. OSU was expected to have one of the best teams in the nation, though it began the season behind two current unbeaten teams, Ohio State and Florida State.

Where it went wrong: Everything went wrong in the Cowboys' 30-21 loss to West Virginia on Sept. 28. OSU’s blocking was horrible, its running game was worse and its kicking game was so bad words cannot describe it. And, worst of all, senior quarterback Clint Chelf watched it all from the sidelines. It was a devastating loss that removed the Pokes’ right to complain about their BCS destiny from that point forward.

Where it got back on track: Things got moving in the right direction when Chelf replaced J.W. Walsh as the starter against Iowa State on Oct. 26. Since that point, OSU has averaged 47.8 points per game, winning by an average of 28.4 points. If the Cowboys had turned to Chelf against WVU, they could have entered this weekend undefeated and with a case to be in the BCS title game. A win over Oklahoma would give the Cowboys four wins over Top 25 teams since October.

Baylor Bears

Where it all started: The Bears began the season unranked but with murmurs that they could be the surprise team of the Big 12 Conference. They promptly reeled off nine straight wins behind one of the nation’s most explosive offenses to rise to No. 4 in the BCS standings, including a 41-12 win over Oklahoma on Nov. 7 that legitimized the team in many peoples' eyes. In doing so, Baylor sent a clear message to the nation that the program is going to make noise in the Big 12 in 2013 and beyond.

Where it went wrong: Baylor simply did not have any answers on a chilly night in Stillwater, Okla., two weeks ago. The Cowboys overwhelmed a Bears squad handcuffed by injuries to some of its top players. It was a game that showed as far as the program has come, there’s still a ways to go and valuable experience to gain that could be used to get over that hump in the future.

Where it got back on track: Has it? The Bears rebounded after the loss to OSU with a 41-38 win over TCU last Saturday but their offense has taken a clear step backward in recent weeks. Over past two games, the Bears are averaging 29 points per game and 4.73 yards per play. During their nine-game win streak to start the season, they averaged 61.2 points per game and 8.52 yards per play. Baylor can prove those performances were just a small blip on the radar with an impressive win over Texas on Saturday, which would secure a share of the Big 12 title or even an outright championship with an OSU loss.

Texas Longhorns

Where it all started: Texas coach Mack Brown sincerely believed his team had a chance to win every game it played this season. The Longhorns were No. 15 in both preseason polls, and all the ingredients were there on paper: A nation-leading 19 returning starters, a fairly favorable schedule and a wide-open Big 12. If junior quarterback David Ash enjoyed the breakout season he anticipated, the Longhorns believed a conference title and a BCS bowl trip were well within reach.

Where it went wrong: A rough night in Provo, Utah. After storms delayed kickoff nearly two hours, Texas took the field against BYU on Sept. 7 and got absolutely whooped, 40-21. The Longhorns defense gave up a school-record 550 rushing yards, 259 coming from QB Taysom Hill, and completely collapsed. Ash suffered a concussion that eventually ended his season after just 2.5 games. Brown fired defensive coordinator Manny Diaz that Sunday and replaced him with Greg Robinson. Texas then lost at home the following week to Ole Miss to drop to 1-2.

Where it got back on track: The first step was a 31-21 win over defending Big 12 champ Kansas State, ending a five-game losing streak to the Wildcats. But the big break was Texas finally beating Oklahoma for the first time in four years. The Longhorns stunned then-No. 12 OU 36-20 on Oct. 12 and went on to start 6-0 in the Big 12 before losing to Oklahoma State. The key to that run? Solid play from Case McCoy, a new run-heavy, physical identity on offense and steady improvement defensively since Robinson took over. Now the Longhorns can earn at least a share of the conference title they coveted, and maybe the whole thing, with a win over No. 9 Baylor.