If there was any doubt that the national championship race is an SEC-Big 12 race right now, they were dispelled on Saturday. While Oklahoma wasn’t in danger of being caught from behind, any future chance that might happen surely disappeared under the weight of OU’s 55-17 assault on Texas, a win fueled by five Longhorn turnovers. What’s not as generally reported is that Oklahoma State controls their own destiny for the national title every bit as much as Alabama, LSU and Oklahoma do. Okie State is ranked behind Wisconsin and Boise State right now, but that would likely take care of itself presuming the Cowboys mow through Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor and surprising Kansas State, still unbeaten themselves. That would set up a battle with Oklahoma on Thanksgiving Saturday and from there a date with Alabama or LSU on January 9 in New Orleans.
If Oklahoma State is to successfully navigate the route to the “semifinal game” with their in-state rival, they will need a more consistent running game. It’s easy to overlook when you’re hanging 60-70 points a game and Brandon Weeden is an unstoppable machine throwing the ball. But the Cowboys are giving up some points too, and being able to stabilize a game through running the ball will be important against the quality opponents ahead.
Elsewhere in the power conferences…
ACC: Did anyone guess that Clemson-Wake Forest would be shaping up as the regular season’s biggest game? Both Atlantic Division teams are 3-0, both have beaten Florida State and their November 12 meeting is shaping up as the one to decide the division title. I respect Wake Forest a lot, but I’ll still hold off getting too high on them. They get some terrific quarterback play from Tanner Price and they’re well-coached with Jim Grob, but they’re more reliant on getting mistakes from other teams if they’re to win big games. Florida State obliged last Saturday throwing four interceptions and joining the Demon Deacons in double-digit penalties. But overall, this is still looking Clemson’s division to lose and everyone in the Coastal Division has a lot of improvement to do if they are to be a threat to win the conference championship game in December.
Big Ten: Illinois has built up a quiet 6-0 record and looking to be a challenger to Wisconsin in the Leader Division. While part of the reason for the record is some close escapes, namely against Western Michigan and Northwestern, the Illini have also gotten improved quarterback play from sophomore Nathan Scheelhaase. As a freshman starter in 2010, Scheelhaase was more effective running than throwing. Now he’s putting up some numbers in the air, with over 500 yards passing in Illinois’ two conference wins. Illinois starts the meat of their schedule Saturday with a home game against Ohio State, they go to Penn State on October 29 and host Wisconsin on November 19, their three primary rivals in the Leaders.
SEC: If you’re below the LSU-Alabama border in the SEC West, then as the Beyonce song says “It Sucks To Be You”, since not only is there no shot at even a division title, but there’s only two teams per conference that can reach BCS bowl games. But Arkansas can at least aim at a 10-2 season and the probable date in the January 1 Capital One Bowl. The Hogs beat Auburn decisively on Saturday. If Bobby Petrino’s team is going to run the table between now and Black Friday when they play LSU, they need to stiffen up against the run. Auburn’s Michael Dyer rushed for over 100 yards and it was the Tigers’ own turnover and penalty implosion that caused the rout.
Pac-10: Arizona is the school in the headlines with its dismissal of head coach Mike Stoops, but its in-state rival Arizona State that has seized complete command of the Pac-12 South. After putting a solid 35-14 win over division rival Utah together with another big victory over USC and ASU either holds the tiebreaker or has a two-game lead on everyone but UCLA. We’ll look at Arizona State’s ESPN game with Oregon in this week’s previews on Thursday, a possible preview of the conference championship game. For now we just need to remember that Dennis Erickson’s team would have to trip over itself to not win the South Division. Either that, or the lack of a running game would do the tripping up for them, but without quality competition in the division, I doubt anyone could take advantage.