Oklahoma State has a chance to emerge from an unexpected shadow this week.
The Cowboys were the preseason pick by Big 12 coaches as the favorite to win the league. But after an early loss at West Virginia, they have taken a bit of a backseat to Baylor's undefeated run.
Both of the teams are now front and center: Baylor plays Saturday at Oklahoma State.
With six wins in a row, including a decisive victory at Texas on Saturday, the 11th-ranked Cowboys (9-1, 6-1 Big 12) control their fate in the Big 12 race. So do the No. 3 Bears (9-0, 6-0), who are on pace to set major college records with its 686 yards and 61 points a game.
''Once we played so poorly at West Virginia, our message to the plays was each week they have to go out and compete no matter what's in line,'' Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said Monday on the Big 12 coaches' teleconference. ''You have to win one to get to the next, and that's the way that we've had to play for a month and a half. So it's been the same message each week.''
Texas had been the only other team without a loss in Big 12 play before falling 38-13 to the Cowboys.
Baylor, which hasn't won a game in Stillwater since 1939, has won a school-record 13 games in a row. The Bears are fourth in the BCS standings, though that isn't something that moves coach Art Briles.
''We're not looking at it right now because really all that's week to week. Our job is to go out and win a football game,'' Briles said. ''It adds a little flavor to the pregame, but once the game starts, it's all doing your job on the field.''
After the Cowboys, the Bears still have two more games - at TCU, which will treat the rivalry like its bowl game since the Frogs can't go to one, and home against Texas. The regular season finale could be another potential Big 12 title-deciding game for Baylor - or the Longhorns (7-3, 6-1), if they beat Texas Tech at home on Thanksgiving night.
''That's exactly what the message was after the game,'' Texas coach Mack Brown said. ''Now we've got to go beat Texas Tech in two weeks and get back on track, and then hopefully if we can do that, then we'll have the showdown with Baylor on the last day.''
While the Big 12 title is still be settled over the last three weeks of the round-robin regular season, with even Oklahoma still having an outside shot of getting at least a share of its ninth conference title, the bowl teams are set.
A year after having nine bowl teams - an NCAA-record 90 percent of a league going to the postseason - the Big 12 will have only six this season, with Kansas State and Texas Tech also set for bids. It will be the fewest for the Big 12 since also having six in 1999.
The Big 12 is guaranteed a spot in a BCS game, the Fiesta Bowl if not in the championship game, and will send teams to five other bowls: the Cotton, Alamo, Buffalo Wild Wings, Holiday and Texas. The league won't be able to fill its slot for the Pinstripe Bowl in the last year of an agreement with the game at Yankee Stadium.
West Virginia and TCU both suffered their seventh losses over the weekend to end long bowl streaks. The Mountaineers had been to 11 consecutive bowls, and TCU had been seven years in a row. Kansas and Iowa State were already assured losing seasons before that.
West Virginia was eliminated from bowl contention by a 31-19 loss at Kansas, which ended a 27-game Big 12 losing streak that was two short of the conference mark of futility (Baylor had 29 consecutive league losses before a win over the Jayhawks in 2002).
''Nobody's happy with 4-7, nobody's happy with being home for the holidays,'' WVU coach Dana Holgorsen said.
The game had a totally different feeling for Kansas and coach Charlie Weis.
''When guys just get used to losing, no matter how hard you fight and nothing good happens, it wears old on you after a while,'' Weis said. ''It was a big, big psychological lift for our players, for our program.''