NORMAN — TCU takes Owen Field on Saturday night. Could have been — would have been — Texas A&M in this slot, had the Aggies made nice with the haughty Longhorns and stayed in the Big 12.
So is that a blessing or a curse to a Sooner football team suddenly basking in the sunlight of a victory at Notre Dame?
That's the conundrum facing OU as October arrives. The Big 12, already streamlined by conference realignment, has turned soft in 2013.
OSU? Not as strong as billed, with a questionable offense. Texas? Thrilled and lucky with a one-point win at Ames. These Horned Frogs? No title threat without quarterback Casey Pachall. Kansas State? Out of Bill Snyder miracles.
Baylor looks the real deal, and Texas Tech has yet to be scarred. But the Sooners' path to Big 12 supremacy seems to be growing clearer by the week. Trips to Waco and Stillwater will be treacherous, but what looked like a crowded field of contenders is thinning quickly.
But again. Is that blessing or curse?
The Sooners are starting to sniff national contention. They're up to 11th in the AP poll, 10th in the coaches poll and eighth in the projected BCS standings. For the first week of October, that's certainly in the realm of Big Bowl contention.
Yet the Sooners – or any Big 12 team – face the possibility of December disappointment. The meager performance by Big 12 teams in non-conference games means the conference champ almost surely will lose any potential tiebreaker.
An unbeaten OU vs. an unbeaten Clemson or Florida State? The ACC would prevail. Undefeated OU vs. undefeated Oregon or Stanford? The Pac-12 champ gets the nod. Sooners at 12-0 vs. 12-0 Alabama? Do you even have to ask?
Only against an unbeaten Ohio State would an unbeaten Oklahoma have a fighting chance with BCS politics.
Truth is, a 12-0 Oklahoma would be hard-pressed to trump a 12-1 Bama or 12-1 LSU or 12-1 Georgia.
And the Sooners don't have a great argument. First, the BCS has been awfully good to OU over the years. These things tend to even out. And second, the weakness of the Big 12 declaws OU's case.
The Big 12 has only two non-conference victories against fellow major-conference teams: OU-Notre Dame and OSU-Mississippi State. Big 12 defeats have come against LSU, Ole Miss, Iowa, Brigham Young and Maryland, which are acceptable, I suppose. But also Northern Iowa, North Dakota State and Rice, which are not.
Bob Stoops said he's not worried about such things.
“We're in the fourth game,” Stoops said. “We'll see where things go. I'm not concerned. All I can do is concern myself with playing well Saturday and then playing well the following Saturday.
“But obviously going to Notre Dame, which we were willing to do, can't hurt us.”
But other contenders scheduled legit games, too. Alabama played Virginia Tech in Atlanta. Stanford has Notre Dame in November. Oregon played Virginia and Tennessee, which are not Notre Dame, but neither are they Wofford and Buffalo. Clemson played Georgia and plays South Carolina. Florida State has Florida.
And all of those contenders are in conferences tougher in 2013 than is the Big 12.
Would be a nice year for the Big 12 to have kept A&M. Or a nice year to have added Louisville. Or a nice year for West Virginia to have been the solid program it should be.
But those curses could just as easily be blessings, if they help keep the OU path relatively clear.
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.
The top 15 in the projected BCS standings, as determined by Jerry Palm of cbssports.com, and their remaining schedules:
1. Alabama: Georgia State, at Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, LSU, at Mississippi State, Chattanooga, at Auburn.
2. Oregon: at Colorado, at Washington, Washington State, UCLA, at Stanford, Utah, at Arizona, Oregon State.
3. Clemson: at Syracuse, Boston College, Florida State, at Maryland, at Virginia, Georgia Tech, Citadel, at South Carolina.
4. Stanford: Washington, at Utah, UCLA, at Oregon State, Oregon, at Southern Cal, California, Notre Dame.
5. Florida State: Maryland, at Clemson, North Carolina State, Miami, at Wake Forest, Syracuse, Idaho, at Florida.
6. Ohio State: at Northwestern, Iowa, Penn State, at Purdue, at Illinois, Indiana, at Michigan.
7. Georgia: at Tennessee, Missouri, at Vanderbilt, Florida, Appalachian State, at Auburn, Kentucky, at Georgia Tech.
8. Oklahoma: TCU, Texas at Dallas, at Kansas, Texas Tech, at Baylor, Iowa State, at Kansas State, at Oklahoma State.
9. Louisville: at Temple, Rutgers, Central Florida, at South Florida, at Connecticut, Houston, Memphis, at Cincinnati.
10. LSU: at Mississippi State, Florida, at Ole Miss, Furman, at Alabama, Texas A&M, Arkansas.
11. Texas A&M: at Ole Miss, Auburn, Vanderbilt, Texas-El Paso, Mississippi State, at LSU, at Missouri.
12. UCLA: California, at Stanford, at Oregon, Colorado, at Arizona, Washington, Arizona State, at Southern Cal.
13. South Carolina: Kentucky, at Arkansas, at Tennessee, at Missouri, Mississippi State, Florida, Coastal Carolina, Clemson.
14. Washington: at Stanford, Oregon, at Arizona State, California, Colorado, at UCLA, at Oregon State, Washington State.
15. Northwestern: Ohio State, at Wisconsin, Minnesota, at Iowa, at Nebraska, Michigan, Michigan State, at Illinois.