The biggest week of college football’s regular season has arrived and No. 6 Baylor is one of the featured acts.
The Bears (7-0, 4-0 Big 12) can catapult themselves to uncharted heights in the BCS standings with a victory in Thursday’s showdown against No. 10 Oklahoma (7-1, 3-1) in Waco (6:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1).
Baylor, which began the season unranked in any of the weekly polls, already holds its loftiest BCS position in school history.
But the Bears have a chance to do some serious poll vaulting if they impress voters during the same week other national title contenders stumble or struggle in high-profile matchups.
Three of the teams ahead of Baylor in the updated BCS standings also face season-defining tests this week. One of them is guaranteed to fall during Thursday’s other titanic matchup: No. 3 Oregon (8-0, 5-0 in Pac-12) at No. 5 Stanford (7-1, 5-1) in the game that should decide the title in the Pac-12 North Division (8 p.m., ESPN).
Top-ranked Alabama (8-0, 5-0 in SEC) will be challenged by No. 13 LSU (7-2, 3-2) in a Saturday showdown (7 p.m., KTVT/Ch. 11) that could alter the top of the BCS standings.
As the Bears prepare for the highest-stakes November stretch in the history of the school’s football program, it is clear that a soft nonconference schedule will not help Baylor in its BSC title quest. The Bears already trail four undefeated teams, as well as once-beaten Stanford, in this week’s BCS standings despite owning an 11-game winning streak and leading the nation in scoring (63.9 points per game).
A strength-of-schedule boost in the BCS formula will be coming if Baylor can sweep the four remaining bowl-bound teams, along with TCU, in its back-loaded slate. But it won’t be a huge bump even if No. 14 Oklahoma State (7-1, 4-1) can climb into the top 10 before the teams meet Nov. 23 in Stillwater, Okla.
To feel confident about earning a berth in the BCS National Championship Game when the matchup is set on Dec. 8, Baylor must post a 12-0 record and hope for some help in other key games. Along the way, it would benefit Baylor’s cause if No. 25 Texas Tech (7-2, 4-2) and Texas (6-2, 5-0) could carry BCS rankings into those contests.
Beyond that, here is a realistic blueprint of what Baylor fans should be rooting for in other key games to help the Bears travel a less-than-primrose path to Pasadena, Calif. and a berth in the BCS title game on Jan. 6, 2014:
• Stanford beats Oregon in Thursday’s matchup, knocking the Ducks from the unbeaten ranks.
• LSU takes down Alabama in Saturday’s SEC showdown.
• Stanford follows up its win over Oregon with a loss at Southern California (6-3, 3-2 in Pac-12) on Nov. 16.
• No. 4 Ohio State (8-0, 4-0 in Big Ten) wins its division but loses to No. 17 Michigan State (8-1, 5-0), the team with the nation’s stingiest defense, in the Big Ten championship game.
• No. 2 Florida State (8-0, 6-0 in ACC) loses a rivalry matchup at Florida (4-4) in its regular-season finale on Nov. 30 or falls in the ACC championship game to Virginia Tech (6-2, 3-1).
With that set of results, combined with a 12-0 Baylor record, the Bears would be the lone undefeated team from a BCS conference when the final BCS standings are tabulated on Dec. 8. You can bank on Baylor playing in the season’s biggest game if that happens.
If Baylor is among two or more undefeated teams still standing from BCS leagues on Dec. 8, it is unlikely that the BCS formula will favor the Bears. The team’s soft September stretch, combined with a less-than-robust Big 12, probably would be factors in dictating a different matchup.
At this point, the only given is that Baylor cannot afford a loss in its November stretch run if the Bears plan to play in the BCS championship game. And Bears’ fans should root for some strategic losses by other contenders if they want to see Baylor play in Pasadena.