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WACO, Texas -- Overshadowed by the SEC's dominance over the past seven seasons, the Big 12 and Pac-12 finally took center stage Thursday night, with a pair of top-10 matchups earning the conferences the spotlight from coast to coast.
And the ACC won.
No. 5 Stanford stunned No. 3 Oregon for the second season in a row, winning 26-20 at Stanford Stadium, all but knocking the Ducks out of the race for a spot in the last BCS National Championship, which will be played at the Rose Bowl on Jan. 6. Last season, the Cardinal upset the Ducks 17-14 in overtime, spoiling what looked like a clear path to play for a national title.
Oregon's surprising loss opens the door for No. 2 Florida State to possibly play for its first national championship since 1999 -- if the Seminoles don't slip in their final four regular-season games or in the Dec. 7 ACC championship game in Charlotte, N.C. After blasting then-No. 7 Miami 41-14 last week, the Seminoles jumped the Ducks in the Bowl Championship Series standings, but their place among the top two teams seemed only temporary, at least until Oregon defeated Stanford.
|As Marcus Mariota's Heisman hopes may have come crashing down, Jameis Winston's could be rising.|
Now that the Ducks have fallen, FSU might have the easiest path during the last month of the regular season among the BCS contenders. After playing at Wake Forest on Saturday, the Seminoles host Syracuse and Idaho and then close the regular-season slate at struggling Florida on Nov. 30.
Oregon's loss might also put FSU quarterback Jameis Winston at the top of the Heisman Trophy race. Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota came into the week as the perceived Heisman front-runner, but his team's loss to Stanford puts a serious dent in his credentials.
With Thursday's doubleheader in the rearview mirror, two-time defending BCS national champion Alabama is now on the BCS clock. The Crimson Tide host No. 13 LSU in Tuscaloosa on Saturday in what might be the biggest obstacle left in their quest for an unprecedented third consecutive BCS title.
Alabama, which suffered November losses in each of the past two seasons only to rebound and win a title, probably can't afford a similar loss this season with so many other unbeaten BCS contenders still in the picture.
The Seminoles aren't the only team with bolstered BCS hopes after Oregon's loss.
No. 4 Ohio State, which has been an afterthought even with a 21-game winning streak because of its soft schedule, could stake its own claim to a title shot by ending up as one of the only remaining unbeaten teams left at the end of the regular season.
And what about No. 6 Baylor? The high-scoring Bears were criticized for playing a soft schedule through the first two months of the season, but then they blasted No. 10 Oklahoma 41-12 Thursday night at Floyd Casey Stadium. Baylor, which came into the game averaging 63.9 points per game, stubbed its toes early and often in what might have been the biggest game in the program's history.
How big? Baylor officials were forced to remove the venerable tarp in the south end zone, which had covered thousands of seats during all but one game since 2004. Last week, workers removed the tarp, which declared "This Is Bear Country," and moved it to a storage building outside the stadium. Now, Baylor students want to burn the tarp, and they might as well destroy the Bears' long-term lease on the Big 12 cellar with it.
After beating Oklahoma for only the second time in 23 meetings, Baylor is four victories away from accomplishing the unimaginable -- winning the Big 12 and finishing unbeaten.
"I think we've come a long way," Baylor defensive end Chris McAllister said. "Baylor hasn't always been a good team. We're doing a lot of things we haven't done in the past."
A sellout crowd of 50,537 fans watched the Bears move to 8-0 for the first time in school history and extend their winning streak to 12 games since last season. Baylor distributed about 10,500 student tickets -- the Baptist university has an undergraduate enrollment of about 12,500 -- and issued more than 400 media credentials for the game.
"It's something I haven't seen before," Baylor coach Art Briles said. "It was emotional and humbling. When you've got support, you have a chance to get something rolling."
The Bears are certainly rolling now, even after one of their least impressive offensive performances of the season. Baylor managed only a field goal in the first quarter and fell behind the Sooners 5-3 after allowing a safety and field goal early in the second quarter. Quarterback Bryce Petty was inaccurate under pressure early, and the Bears kicked themselves with myriad self-inflicted mistakes, drawing three personal fouls on a single play late in the first quarter.
|Baylor's offense has been the team's calling card, but its defense dominated Oklahoma.|
"It was ugly," said Petty, who threw for 204 yards with three touchdown passes and two scoring runs. "It was an ugly game, really. We didn't play as clean as we wanted to."
But Baylor's offense didn't have to be spectacular because its defense played so well. And OU coach Bob Stoops, who earned the moniker "Big Game Bob" early in his career, has watched his Sooners consistently flop in their biggest games lately.
Oklahoma ran for only 87 yards, went 4-for-17 on third down and came away with only five points after running seven plays inside Baylor's 15-yard line in the first quarter.
"Once that happened, they started getting on their heels," Baylor safety Ahmad Dixon said.
When Dixon, a homegrown recruit from Waco's Midway High School, signed with Baylor three years ago, the Bears hadn't had a winning season in 15 years and hadn't played in a bowl game since 1994. After the Big 12 opened its doors in 1996, Baylor finished last in the South Division in 11 of 12 seasons.
Briles didn't try to sell Dixon on unrealistic expectations.
"Every school except Baylor [did]," Dixon said. "This is the only school that didn't tell me I could play for a national championship and win the Big 12. Coach Briles just had a dream and wanted to build this program up."
Now, after Oregon lost Thursday night, the Bears might be a BCS championship contender as much as anyone else.
"Keep doubting," Dixon said. "We'll earn their respect sooner or later. If you still doubt after this game, it's your loss."