The Big 12 Conference football teams might have thrown away the script this season, but they somehow find themselves with the original ending: Missouri vs. Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship.
Sure, Missouri fell out of character and lost three games. Texas and Texas Tech adlibbed upsets that mixed up the race for the South. Chase Daniel, Colt McCoy, Graham Harrell and Sam Bradford each took turns in the leading role for Heisman Trophy.
But for all the plot twists, this was just another predictable blockbuster.
Oklahoma will face Missouri in the Big 12 Conference title game next Saturday, winning a three-way tie with Texas and Texas Tech by taking the No. 2 spot in the Bowl Championship Series standings. The Sooners edged Texas in the USA Today Coaches Poll and computer rankings, even though Oklahoma had a 10-point loss to the Longhorns in October.
Missouri, who clinched the North two weeks ago against Iowa State, finally knows its opponent from the South. The No. 20 Tigers will need a quick turnaround after a bitter 40-37 loss to Kansas on Saturday. The Tigers practiced Sunday morning, and Daniel said he would start watching film that night. The quarterback said he and his team need to put the loss behind them and “over-prepare” for the championship game.
“If we don’t, we’re going to get embarrassed by a really good South team,” Daniel said Saturday after the Tigers' loss.
The Tigers will be looking for redemption against the Sooners, who beat Missouri twice last year, including 38-17 in the Big 12 Championship. Even more, the Tigers will want to make a statement about this year’s team, which fell short of lofty preseason expectations.
“There’s a lot of opportunity out there,” Pinkel said on Saturday.
On the line is Missouri’s bowl position. A win over Oklahoma could throw the Tigers into the Fiesta Bowl, but a one-sided loss would further detract from the team’s allure to other bowl officials.
“We can save our season in one game,” linebacker Sean Weatherspoon said Saturday.
The Sooners (11-1), who lost to Texas 45-35 in October, barely edged the Longhorns. Oklahoma has a .9351 BCS average. Texas' BCS average is .9223.
So the Longhorns will be watching two teams they beat play for the conference title, rooting for Missouri.
Oklahoma is second in the BCS standings behind unbeaten Alabama. Texas is third and Florida is fourth.
The winner of the Southeastern Conference championship game between the Crimson Tide and Gators is virtually guaranteed a spot in the BCS national title game on Jan. 8 in Miami.
Oklahoma would earn the other spot by beating Missouri. If the Sooners lose, it could open the door for Texas to go to the national title game, despite not playing for its conference championship.
If voters are squeamish about letting a team that didn't win its conference play for a national championship, maybe Southern California could get a shot at the SEC champ in South Florida.
The Trojans are fifth in the BCS standings with a game to go at rival UCLA.
Most Tigers players said they didn’t care which team from the Big 12 South they faced. Weatherspoon said he wished he could get a shot at all three tied teams.
Now that they are set to play the Sooners, the key will be regaining focus. Weatherspoon said Missouri will work on getting a fast start, as the team often did early in the season. The Tigers have not come from behind to win all season. Against Kansas, Daniel had zero passing yards in the first quarter.
Daniel and the other Tigers said having the Kansas game at Arrowhead will help them know what to expect next week with the real grass field and Missouri snow.
“We’ll be more focused than we’ve ever been,” tailback Derrick Washington said, adding that he and his teammates need to forget about the Border Showdown heartbreak. “We got to focus on something bigger now.”
— The Associated Press contributed to this report