The Big 12 bowl picture is overloaded with qualifiers and potential qualifiers heading into the final three weeks of the regular season.
And the league's lone postseason constant throughout the Big 12 era is in danger of being crowded out of the mix unless Texas Tech (5-5, 2-5 in Big 12) regains its October form during its November stretch run.
That seems unlikely following a 66-6 loss to No. 2 Oklahoma State in which Red Raiders' players packed it in almost as quickly as disappointed fans, who began heading for the exits in Lubbock with their team facing a 49-0 deficit in the second quarter.
But this is the Big 12, where anyone can beat anyone. Tech proved that by defeating current BCS No. 5 Oklahoma 41-38 on Oct. 22 as a 29-point underdog, ending the Sooners' 39-game home winning streak.
Yet the Red Raiders have responded with three consecutive losses since that season-defining triumph against a team ranked No. 1 in the coaches poll at the time. Tech has been outscored by a 159-33 margin in those losses and the count increases to 190-43 when you factor in the stretch run against OU, when Tech fought to protect a 31-7 lead.
Coach Tommy Tuberville said Saturday's stinkfest, like the two that preceded it against Texas (52-20) and Iowa State (41-7), falls under the shared blame category and involves coaches and players.
"They understand they haven't played very well and we haven't coached very well," Tuberville said.
So, what about the Red Raiders' 18 consecutive bowl-eligible seasons, the longest active mark in the Big 12 and a stretch eclipsed nationally by only Florida State (34), Florida (30) and Ohio State (21)?
"We don't even talk about bowls much," Tuberville said. "We're so far away from being a team right now that can have a chance to compete in a bowl. We've got to get better. We've got a chance to win both of these [remaining games]... or none of them. It just depends on how our guys react. We'll find out a lot about ourselves the next two weeks."
Without question, Tech has reached a confidence crisis that threatens to scuttle a once-promising season. A team with only six seniors among its 22 starters finds itself focusing more on question marks raised by the lopsided loss to Iowa State than on exclamation points it can draw from its victory over OU.
That is the perspective of both Tuberville and center Justin Keown, one of Tech's senior leaders, heading into season-ending games against Missouri (5-5, 3-4) and Baylor (6-3, 3-3). Tech must beat one or the other to become bowl-eligible in a season when nine of the league's 10 teams could meet the qualifying standard.
"We came off the big win at Oklahoma and got shut down by Iowa State, which never should have happened," Keown said. "I think a lot of guys just started losing their confidence. This week, I think that's the big emphasis is getting our confidence back."
But that's easier said than done, especially for a young team that responded Saturday with a less-than-inspired effort when adversity mounted against a more talented opponent. The lack of intensity was obvious and it bothered receiver Eric Ward, who leads the team in receptions (61) and touchdown catches (9).
"When some things don't go our way, we tend to shut it down, not go as hard," Ward said. "I felt a vibe like people... not giving it their all anymore. We all need to look ourselves in the eye, even me, and ask, 'What do I need to do better that can help us get where we're trying to go?'"
From Tuberville's perspective, his team "looked lethargic" against OSU because of physical issues, not mental ones, while absorbing the most lopsided loss in school history. Asked if he thought coaches ran the risk of losing this team mentally, Tuberville said: "Oh, no. We've got good leadership ...good seniors."
Time will tell. For now, Tuberville clearly is entrenched with school administrators, despite the midseason slump. Tech athletic director Kirby Hocutt told the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal that the second-year coach "has our 100 percent support" because he "knows how to win at the highest level" of college football.
Tuberville's record, which includes a 13-0 mark at Auburn in 2004, supports Hocutt's faith. But Saturday's performance stands as the low-water mark of the Tuberville tenure in Lubbock.
With no more home games on the schedule, matters could get worse unless the Red Raiders regain their October swagger. If the swagger never resurfaces, expect Tech's 18-year stretch of bowl-eligible seasons to become a memory by the end of the month.
Follow Jimmy Burch on Twitter @Jimmy_Burch.
Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760