The road to the national championship goes through the Big 12. When you can match No. 1 against No. 5, you have a game guaranteed to make a big impact on the national championship race. Oklahoma and Texas have the leadership at quarterback and overall team talent to have legitimate shots at the national championship. Not only that, they each could have the opportunity to face No. 3 Missouri, No. 7 Texas Tech, No. 16 Kansas and No. 17 Oklahoma State along the way. Unfortunately for Texas, it might have to beat Missouri twice if it is going to make it all the way to the top.
The team that wins the Red River Shootout will remain undefeated and have a victory over a top-five team to its credit. That's huge. History shows that the Texas-Oklahoma winner usually goes on to win the Big 12 South, then the Big 12 championship. In addition, the winner has advanced to the national championship game four times this decade – Oklahoma in 2000, 2003 and 2004, and Texas in 2005. If Oklahoma prevails as expected, the Sooners will have further solidified their No. 1 ranking. If Texas wins … well, there is Missouri next week. Should the Longhorns win both, they have a spot in the national title game waiting for them … provided they don't lose later, of course.
It has to be Oklahoma-Texas because it's the only game that will pit top-five teams. The loser will be behind the eight ball in the chase to win the Big 12 South. If the Sooners beat the Longhorns, they have the easiest path of any unbeaten team to the BCS title game. Oklahoma has no regular-season game vs. Missouri, meaning the only challenging games left would be against Kansas (home), Texas Tech (home) and Oklahoma State (away). While all may be able to match Oklahoma's offensive firepower, none has a defense as formidable as the Sooners' unit. Win out, and the Sooners likely would face Missouri in the Big 12 title game for the second year in a row. And know this: Tigers coach Gary Pinkel never has beaten the Sooners, losing twice to OU in 2007.
I know the conventional thinking is Oklahoma-Texas will have the most BCS implications, but it's not a clear-cut answer. If Oklahoma wins, the Sooners will remain No. 1. If Texas wins, the Longhorns will enter a crowded picture among Alabama, LSU and Penn State – assuming the latter two win Saturday. That's why those two games (LSU at Florida and Penn State at Wisconsin) carry more BCS weight. LSU must win to keep up with Alabama and Missouri. The Crimson Tide are No. 3 in the Harris poll and No. 1 in four of six computer rankings. Mizzou leapfrogged LSU in the coaches' poll. For Florida, it's a national title – and possibly SEC championship – elimination game. Penn State must defeat Wisconsin to keep the Big Ten in the national title picture. A win should vault the Nittany Lions into the top five. A loss in Madison would mean Penn State (and Ohio State, for that matter) would have to watch scoreboards for the rest of the season if they hope to stay in the title race.
Obviously, each game has title implications, whether it be for one team (Missouri, Penn State) involved in a game or both. The easy answer is to say Oklahoma-Texas because both are in the top five. But let's stray from the road easiest taken and say Florida-LSU and Penn State-Wisconsin are equal. Penn State is the only Big Ten school with a legit chance at the national title, and a loss to the Badgers would eliminate the Nittany Lions. Florida's title hopes are hanging by a thread – a thread that will be cut if the Gators lose at home. LSU can afford a loss and remain in the title hunt, as can Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas.
The Oklahoma-Texas game clearly has the biggest national championship implications because it may be the only game this week in which both teams still control their own destiny as far as the BCS race is concerned. Wisconsin's already out of the national title hunt, while even an unbeaten Penn State team might get left out of the title game if the Big 12 and SEC champions also go undefeated. Florida needs plenty of help now that it has lost to Ole Miss at home. You can make an argument that the Missouri-Oklahoma State winner also controls its own destiny, since Oklahoma State's upcoming games with undefeated Texas, Texas Tech and Oklahoma would allow the Cowboys to make a quantum leap in the BCS standings as long as they remain unbeaten. But there are never any guarantees when you're as low as 17th in the polls in October. Oklahoma and Texas have no such worries since both are in the top five. The Oklahoma-Texas winner almost certainly will get a chance to play for the national title as long as it remains unbeaten.