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NATIONAL REPORT: Forgotten Big 12 features best matchups down stretch

Quarterback Clint Chelf threw for two touchdowns ran for two others No. 18 OklahomState’s victory Saturday against No. 15 Texas

Quarterback Clint Chelf threw for two touchdowns and ran for two others in No. 18 Oklahoma State’s victory Saturday against No. 15 Texas Tech. | Stephen Spillman/AP

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Updated: December 4, 2013 6:45AM



The Big 12 is the conference 2013 forgot.

Of the five major leagues in college football, the Big 12 is the only one without a serious contender for the national championship. (Apologies, Baylor.) As the rest of the country points toward conference title games on Dec. 7, the Big 12 shrugs. Unlike the Southeastern Conference, Pac-12, Atlantic Coast Conference and Big Ten, it has no title game. Its divisional setup went by the boards when Nebraska and Colorado left a few years back for supposedly greener pastures.

One more thing about the sad-sack Big 12: It’s going to own the last few weeks of the regular season in college football.

Wait, what? It’s true. The Big 12 is all set up for the best — and most intriguing — finish of any conference, Dec. 7 included.

Preseason co-favorites Oklahoma and Oklahoma State are in the thick of the race for the league title, each at 4-1 in the Big 12 and 7-1 overall. The No. 13 Sooners were off Saturday, while the No. 18 Cowboys blasted No. 15 Texas Tech 52-34.

No. 5 Baylor (7-0, 4-0) also was off, but no team anywhere has more buzz heading into the meat of November.

And then there’s Texas — unranked Texas — which merely has the chance to become the success story of the season. With a 35-13 victory against Kansas, the two-loss Longhorns became the Big 12’s lone 5-0 team in league play. If they keep winning, Mack Brown could go from the coach on the hottest of all seats to national coach of the year, just like that.

‘‘It was a great game,’’ Brown said Saturday. ‘‘It’s a ‘W.’ We’ve won five straight. We’re 5-0 in the league. We’re leading the league.’’

It’s almost as though he couldn’t believe it.

The best part: Texas, Baylor, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will be squaring off like crazy — two at a time, of course — the rest of the way. Each has at least two games left against the other three Big 12 contenders. No other league will come close to the drama.

The sexiest of the matchups might come Thursday, when Oklahoma visits Baylor. Or it might come nine days later, when Oklahoma State plays at Texas.

Given the offenses involved, many would say the most electric clash will be Baylor at Oklahoma State on Nov. 23.

Of course, it all might pale in comparison to Dec. 7. While Alabama is undressing an unfortunate SEC East winner and Florida State, Ohio State and either Oregon or Stanford are overwhelming other-division foes, the Big 12 will offer two games that could get everyone’s attention.

One, Texas at Baylor. Two, Oklahoma at Oklahoma State, which takes a backseat to no rivalry game in the pride and passion departments.

If you haven’t paid much mind to the Big 12 this season, give yourself a break. You’re among millions. But the time has arrived to get on board. Again, you’ll be among millions.

HEISMAN WATCH

My top five if I were voting today:

1. QB Marcus Mariota, Oregon: If he comes up large and the Ducks, who had a bye, win Thursday at Stanford, lock him in as the front-runner.

2. QB Jameis Winston, Florida State: His numbers were there in the victory against Miami, but the multiple interceptions knocked him way back behind Mariota.

3. QB Bryce Petty, Baylor: Another contender whose team had an off week. It gets realer than real for Petty on Thursday against Oklahoma.

4. QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: Give him credit for playing hurt Saturday against UTEP. His Heisman chances are slim and none, though.

5. QB Jordan Lynch, Northern Illinois: It was only UMass, but Lynch went wild again, rushing for four touchdowns and throwing for a fifth score. No player in America is more valuable to his team.

GAME BALL

Andre Williams, Boston College RB

The senior (below) carried the Eagles to a 34-27 upset of Virginia Tech — owner of the No. 5 rushing defense in the country — with 166 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries. Boston College, which was 2-10 last season, moved to 4-4 and ended a five-game losing streak against the Hokies.

GAMES OF THE WEEK/WEAK

Week: Georgia 23, Florida 20. Even under the worst of circumstances — and matching 4-3, unranked, injury-ravaged teams was the worst of circumstances — the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party is a spectacle to behold. The Bulldogs now have their first three-game winning streak in the neutral-site rivalry in Jacksonville, Fla., since the late 1980s. The Gators trailed 20-0 in the early going and 23-3 at halftime, but they closed to 23-20 with nearly the entire fourth quarter left. From there, it was all SEC-style defense and fingernail-chewing.

Weak: No. 11 Auburn 35, Arkansas 17. The nightmare continues for Bret Bielema in his first season as coach of the Razorbacks, who fell to 3-6 overall and 0-5 in the SEC. Arkansas controlled the clock (34:14 of possession) and piled up 222 rushing yards in a Wisconsin-style performance, yet the game was never close. A single winnable game remains — at home against Mississippi State on Nov. 23. Lose that, and it’s an SEC oh-fer for a guy who spent the last three New Year’s Days in Pasadena.

POLLING

Up: No. 24 Michigan State. Belatedly, America will come around to the reality that a spectacular defense deserves to be taken as seriously as a spectacular offense.

Down: No. 15 Texas Tech. Enough of this folly. The Red Raiders are a pretty good team that started hot and got ranked way too high.

In: Texas. The Longhorns are 5-0 in the Big 12. Where we come from, that means ranked.

Out: No. 23 Michigan. Minus-48 yards rushing in East Lansing? When you break it down, not all that impressive.

EXTRA POINTS

• There was an ugly moment in the third quarter of No. 3 Florida State’s 41-14 victory against No. 7 Miami when the teams got into a mini-brawl, and was it beautiful. Truth: Nothing is better in college football than (a) the restoration of a traditional powerhouse program or (b) the restoration of a traditionally great rivalry. We have both on our hands with the Hurricanes on the rise and the Seminoles fully having arrived. Saturday in Tallahassee had a game-of-the-week feel, but the 2014 matchup in Miami might be game-of-the-year material.

• Somebody rescue Northwestern. The last thing Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats deserved was a ‘‘Hail Mary’’ loss. Someone rescue Northwestern. It’s harsh to say, but the Cats’ 0-5 Big Ten record makes them the most disappointing team in the country.

Email: sgreenberg@suntimes.com

Twitter: @SLGreenberg



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