Six wins. Doesn't seem like a lot, but it means the world to college coaches and players. It's the magic number to earn a bowl berth.
TCU's Gary Patterson has mentioned it for months. As we wind down to the final stretch of the regular season, teams on the cusp of that sixth win will move heaven and earth to get there. That includes six teams still left in the Big 12 within striking distance.
"We're just trying to get to six wins and bowl eligibility," said Patterson, who could have been speaking on behalf of all those still hoping for that sixth victory. "It's not that easy, not against good teams, and everybody we've got left is a good team."
But defense starts to assert itself later in a season, and the Horned Frogs, who play at No. 21 West Virginia on Saturday, remain a solid defensive team.
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"In November, whoever plays the best defense, controls the ball, and does everything is going to be the team that wins the conference title and be the top three teams," Patterson said.
The Big 12 has been a hard nut to crack in 2012, but the fate of the league has started to show itself with a final month of games remaining.
With that, here's how the conference could finish and how eight of the 10 teams will earn bowl berths:
Fiesta Bowl (Glendale, Ariz.) Someone is going to knock off Kansas State (8-0, 5-0 in Big 12), making it easier, and with less controversy, for the BCS gods to match up the title game. But the Wildcats will edge Oklahoma for the Big 12 title. Who beats KSU in the final month among Oklahoma State, TCU, Baylor and Texas? Not sure, but it won't be Baylor. The Wildcats will face Notre Dame, which will finish undefeated but left out of the championship game.
Cotton Bowl (Arlington) Oklahoma (5-2, 3-1) will finish the season with five consecutive wins but will settle for second place because of its five-point loss to KSU on Sept. 22. The Sooners will meet LSU, which will be thwarted by Alabama and finish second in the SEC.
Alamo Bowl (San Antonio) Texas Tech (6-2, 3-2) will finish 3-1, with games against Baylor and Kansas left. The Red Raiders will meet the second-place finisher in the Pac-12 (not in a BCS bowl), likely Stanford or USC.
Buffalo Wild Wings (Tempe, Ariz.) Oklahoma State (5-2, 3-1), despite playing well, still faces the toughest stretch of its schedule the final month. Losses to Kansas State (Saturday night) and to Texas Tech and Oklahoma will send the Cowboys to Arizona to meet a mid-pack Big Ten team, which they'll pummel.
Holiday Bowl (San Diego) West Virginia (5-2, 2-2) will regroup after two consecutive losses and finish fifth to earn a trip to the West Coast to play the Pac-12's third-place team. The likely opponent is whoever finishes lower between USC and Stanford.
Meineke Car Care of Texas Bowl (Houston) TCU (5-3, 2-3) will snag one, maybe two, more wins in its final four games to earn its eighth consecutive bowl berth. The Horned Frogs will head back to Houston, where they've played three bowls in the previous 11 seasons. They'll match up against the sixth-place team from the Big Ten, currently looking like Iowa (4-4, 2-2) to ESPN's two bowl analysts.
Pinstripe Bowl (New York City) Texas (6-2, 3-2) will limp through the rest of its season, going 1-3 the final month, but still earn the league's coolest bowl destination with a trip to Yankee Stadium to play the Big East's fourth-place team Pittsburgh. Cool because it's the Big Apple and cool because it'll be cold and the press box is open to the elements.
Independence Bowl (Shreveport) Iowa State (5-3, 2-3) could struggle in the final month (even against last-place Kansas), but will nab a sixth win. The Cyclones will have their hands full, though, against Louisiana Tech.
Left out in the cold: Baylor (3-4, 0-4) will fail to earn a bowl for the first time in three seasons, and Kansas (1-7, 0-5) will miss the postseason for the fourth consecutive season.
Other projected bowls:
BCS National Championship Game: Alabama vs. Oregon
Rose Bowl: Nebraska vs. Oregon State
Sugar Bowl: Georgia vs. Louisville
Orange Bowl: Florida State vs. Boise State
Bell Helicopter Armed Forces: Tulsa vs. Air Force
Stefan Stevenson, 817-390-7760