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Original Issue

The Great Debate

Texas and Oklahoma have strong cases for being in the Big 12 title game, but the winner may be the team that doesn't get to K.C.

HOW DOES the Sooners' evisceration of Texas Tech affect the BCS picture? Well, the fact that it came at the expense of one of the country's last remaining unbeatens by so wide a margin so late in the season undeniably burnishes Oklahoma's championship-game credentials. But before the Sooners can pack their bags for Miami, there's the Big 12 title to be settled in Kansas City, Mo. North champion Missouri has wrapped up a spot in the Dec. 6 game, but last Saturday's blowout in Norman has created a three-way tie in the South, leaving the Tigers' opponent a mystery for the moment. So how to determine who deserves to play for the Big 12 crown? Here are three factors worth considering:

Texas lost to Texas Tech before a hostile crowd in Lubbock, and Tech lost to Oklahoma before jacked-up fans in Norman. But the Sooners' loss to Texas? That came on neutral turf in Dallas, which makes their defeat look worse by comparison. Furthermore, the Longhorns can make the case that they've had it the toughest because they didn't play at home against either team.

Texas has three wins against top 11 opponents (Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Missouri), but its first four victories came against nonconference cupcakes. Texas Tech has two top 11 victories (Oklahoma State and Texas) but won its first four games against an even softer nonconference schedule, which included Division I-AA Eastern Washington and Massachusetts. By contrast Oklahoma has only the win over Tech but can claim impressive nonconference defeats of TCU (a strong Mountain West foe and No. 14 in the BCS) and Cincinnati (which by beating Syracuse this Saturday would win the Big East).

Whoever emerges from the South is certain to have a favorable matchup in the conference-title game. Texas Tech has the firepower to match Missouri's high-scoring attack, Texas has already hung 56 points on a suspect Tigers defense, and Oklahoma beat Mizzou twice last season and has six straight wins in the series. But Missouri, No. 13 in the BCS, is no slouch. Before losing to Oklahoma State and Texas, the Tigers had national-title aspirations of their own. With quarterback Chase Daniel running the offense, they've averaged 45.5 points during a four-game winning streak. And whoever makes it to Kansas City will essentially be playing a road game: It's just a two-hour drive from Columbia. Against Kansas last year Missouri fans turned Arrowhead Stadium into Faurot Field West. (Mizzou has a tune-up at Arrowhead this Saturday against the Jayhawks.)

If the Tigers were indeed to seize on that wave of support and ride it to an upset, a team that doesn't play in K.C. could be the biggest winner because it avoids any chance of a loss and could very well be sitting at No. 2 when the final BCS rankings are released on Dec. 7. (Think Nebraska in 2001.) But better to control your own destiny than not, right? So Oklahoma will be pulling for Texas Tech to beat Baylor and preserve the three-way tie, because the Sooners lose in a two-way tie with Texas. Texas Tech needs Oklahoma State to upset the Sooners; assuming Texas knocks off Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night, the Red Raiders' win over Texas would give them the head-to-head tiebreaker and the South title. And what about Texas, which faces the prospect of being bypassed for the Big 12 title game despite beating the North and South champions (if it's Oklahoma)? An Oklahoma State victory would give the Longhorns their clearest path to the BCS title game. Otherwise, the Texas faithful would be wise to start learning the words to the Missouri fight song.



SPOILERS? Daniel and the No. 13 Tigers should not be taken lightly.