This is the time of the year that big-time conference matchups shape the standings and paint a clear picture of who the favorites are in each league.
Those games have been going on for a few weeks now for the Big 12, and it is obvious that #3 Kansas State is the team to beat. With #14 Texas Tech traveling to Manhattan this weekend, the Wildcats will have another opportunity to boost their BCS résumé.
But, for a league that had a pretty weak slate of games out of conference, the season's marquee non-conference game will be taking place in week nine, when #8 Oklahoma (5-1 3-1) will host #5 Notre Dame (7-0).
The Fighting Irish have maneuvered their way through a tough schedule and remain undefeated through seven games. They've been riding one of the nation's best defenses to get there. That defense will be tested on Saturday, though, because the Sooners are coming into this game clicking on offense. In their last three games, the team is averaging 52 points. Against the same Texas Tech team that suffocated the West Virginia offense, Oklahoma put up 41.
Notre Dame, on the other hand, has had trouble scoring at times this year. In five of the team's seven games, the Irish have scored 20 points or less, including in each of their last two games. Maybe Oklahoma's defense gets little attention because it's in the Big 12, where that side of the ball can become an afterthought, but the Sooners have not given up more than 24 points in a game yet this year.
If the Sooners offense can crack the Notre Dame defense, and the Irish are unable to solve the Oklahoma defense, Oklahoma will have earned a huge win on Saturday night.
It won't help them in the standings, though, where they trail Kansas State. A loss to the Wildcats earlier in the year put Oklahoma in an early hole, and now Bill Snyder's team just continues to win games. Coming off an absolutely dominating performance in Morgantown, Kansas State (7-0, 4-0) will host Texas Tech (6-1, 3-1) and look to move one step closer to an undefeated season.
The Red Raiders have been better than expected so far this year, especially on defense. They'll be facing Collin Klein, who may be the new front-runner for the Heisman, so whether they can continue to find success on defense is yet to be seen.
What makes Kansas State so tough is that, like Oklahoma, it has a pretty good defense to go along with that offense. The Wildcats have also not given up more than 21 points in a game this year, and has an offense that, thanks to a prolific rushing attack, can dominate the time of possession.
That combination has made Kansas State the best team in the Big 12 and has the one-loss teams in the conference hoping for a Texas Tech upset.
Oklahoma State (4-2, 2-1) is one of those teams, and the Cowboys will be hosting TCU (5-2, 2-2) on Saturday. The Horned Frogs are coming off of a tough triple overtime loss to Texas Tech.
Trevone Boykin threw for four touchdowns again on Saturday, but he threw for two interceptions. He's played well in place of Casey Pachall, but he has to limit the turnovers for this team to earn big wins. The TCU defense was also exposed on Saturday, but Texas Tech's offense has been tough to stop all year.
The Horned Frogs will face another passing attack with Oklahoma State, though the Cowboys have injuries mounting at quarterback. J.W. Walsh had been playing since Wes Lunt was hurt earlier in the year, but now Walsh is lost for the year. That could put Lunt back in the starting role, or it could give junior Clint Chelf an opportunity.
Iowa State (4-3, 1-3) has been juggling starters this season, as well, but it's been Jared Barnett running the show as of late. The Cyclones don't have one of the offenses that make the Big 12 famous, but they'll be facing a defense that has been among the worst in the league this year.
Baylor (3-3, 0-3) has given 58 points per game in Big 12 play, and that is the main reason that this team is still searching for its first Big 12 win. The Bears offense ranks third in the country in points per game, but last in the country in points against. If the defense can't get stops, this team will remain winless.
Kansas (1-6, 0-4) is the only other team that has yet to win a conference game, and the Jayhawks will be looking to earn it against #23 Texas (5-2, 2-2). The Longhorns got a much-needed win against Baylor last week, but they need to avoid the upset against Kansas.
Texas is going through defensive issues, too. The Longhorns offense has been better than most thought it would be, but the defense that was supposed to be the best in the conference has been anything but. That won't likely hurt them against Kansas, but it would be encouraging for fans to see some improvement this weekend.
West Virginia is the only team with a week off, and the Mountaineers could probably use some extra time to figure out what has gone wrong in the last two weeks.
The Big 12 has been one of the best conferences in the country this season, but Oklahoma is going to have an opportunity to give the league a true high-profile non-conference win this weekend.
The problem is that it won't affect the standings. The Sooners, and the rest of the Big 12, still need Kansas State to lose. Texas Tech is next in line to take a shot at the Wildcats, so we'll see if Kansas State can remain a National Championship contender.