The Big 12 Game of the Year hits Stillwater on Saturday, with a most unusual suspect.
The Baylor Bears, who in the first 14 years of the Big 12 won 14 conference games, smell not only a Big 12 flag but a berth in the Big Bowl.
That's right. Big Bowl and Baylor in the same breath.
One of only two private schools in the Big 12, with a limited fan base and void of many of the amenities available to the state universities that largely dominate college football.
But the truth is, Baylor is not a party crasher. The Bears are a little late to the festivities.
Private schools have been making waves across the major conferences for several years, after decades of little success.
From the tradition-rich (Notre Dame) to the traditionless (Wake Forest), private schools have staged a revolt.
From Stanford making three straight BCS bowls to Notre Dame waking up echoes to play for the national title last season. From Duke leading the ACC's Coastal Division to Wake Forest not only winning the ACC a few years ago but the Orange Bowl, too.
Sure, Wake was a one-hit wonder, and Duke might be, too. But big brother schools North Carolina State and North Carolina aren't winning any division titles, much less Orange Bowls.
And of course, Northwestern blazed the trail, with the Cinderella season of 1995, followed by another Big Ten title the next year. Back when the Big Ten was really something and Northwestern football was a quarter-century laughingstock.
The lone holdouts have been the Big 12 and the SEC. But now Baylor leads the Big 12 and Vanderbilt has become competitive in the SEC — the Commodores have more league wins the last six years than does Tennessee.
Have we seen a change? Are the private schools — who generally promote enhanced academics and often have stadiums half the size of their rivals — changing the face of college football?
Too early to say. But this we know. College football is becoming a lot like America itself. The class system is not a lifetime sentence.
Schools can move up — and down — the ladder of success through their own will and ingenuity.
Baylor's blueprint is not Stanford's or Notre Dame's. Baylor isn't the Duke of the Southwest. Baylor is not a snooty academic institution. A Baylor degree is an excellent sheepskin, but it comes without the superiority complex of some of the other privates.
Baylor reached its current status by small steps that eventually led to outrecruiting the likes of OU and Texas.
Ten years ago, when Baylor hired Ian McCaw as athletic director, he knew the assignment.
“I knew we had a lot of work to do,” McCaw said. “We needed improvements, really all aspects of the program. We rolled up our sleeves, got to work.”
Baylor slowly improved facilities, hired the right coach and next year will open a glittering new stadium that will eliminate some of the disadvantages the Bears have faced for years.
Before that, Baylor comes to Stillwater for a big ol' ballgame that could get the Bears to where Stanford has been and maybe even to where Notre Dame went.
The revolution continues.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.