COLUMBIA, Mo. -- It might have been make-or-break time for Missouri coach Gary Pinkel, with one newspaper speculating on game day about his possible replacement.
The Tigers' 31-16 victory over Baylor on Saturday, making them bowl eligible for only the fourth time since 1983, should table that talk for at least another year. Especially since they still have an outside shot at making it to the Big 12 championship game.
"That's the goal of the program, you want to be competing for the divisional championship in November," Pinkel said. "Hopefully, sometimes you get it."
This season represents a mild resurgence at best for Missouri (6-4, 4-3 Big 12), viewed as a team on the rise two seasons ago but coming off a 5-6 year that cast doubt on Pinkel's ability to build a contender. Hence, the Kansas City Star's story about Gary Barnett's potential candidacy.
Still, Missouri is one of three schools alive in the wide-open North Division, although it's the longest shot after Colorado (7-3, 5-2) and Iowa State (7-3, 4-3). The Tigers need a three-way tie for first place to pull it off, and would get the nod because they beat fourth-place Nebraska while the other two teams lost to the Huskers.
Even if they fall short, there's the possibility of the postseason. They're among seven bowl-eligible teams in the conference.
"We just want to keep going and take each week at a time," running back Tony Temple said. "And just keep going."
If Colorado beats Nebraska on Nov. 25, the Buffaloes win outright and advance to the title game for the fourth time in five years. They also hold the tiebreaker over Missouri, having beaten them two weeks ago.
Iowa State can advance with a victory over Kansas on Nov. 26 coupled with Colorado and Missouri losses.
The Cyclones' 31-16 victory over Colorado, only their second victory over the Buffaloes in the last 22 home games, created all of these possibilities. Iowa State has won four straight after losing its first three conference games, scoring at least 30 points in every game.
"We've still got a chance," Iowa State's Brent Curvey said. "We're still in the race."
The picture remains clearest for Colorado, and players promise to flush Saturday's loss quickly.
"The good thing about this team is we have a lot of veterans," linebacker Jordon Dizon said. "When they let it go, it tells the young kids to let it go.
"This team has a lot of poise and there's a lot of urgency for this next game."
Whoever prevails in the North faces a daunting challenge. No. 2 Texas clinched the South with a 52-point first half in a 66-14 blowout over Kansas, its third straight 600-yard offensive game coming against a team that had led the conference in defense.
In the first nine games, Kansas had allowed 64.1 yards rushing per game and three Longhorns had more than that -- Ramonce Taylor (96), Henry Melton (73) and Jamaal Charles (70). Vince Young threw to 10 different receivers, had four touchdowns and passed Major Applewhite (8,059) for the school's total offense record.
"I do not think I have ever been on a field where I have seen so many big, fast and talented kids," Kansas coach Mark Mangino said. "They bring guys off the bench that most people wish they had as starters."
Oklahoma State, previously winless in the Big 12, rushed for 303 yards and built a 17-0 lead to erase Texas Tech's slim BCS hopes with a 24-17 victory. Al Pena scored on a 1-yard run with 23 seconds to go.
"They hit harder than we did, they ran faster than we did, they wanted to win the game more than we did," Texas Tech coach Mike Leach said.
Oklahoma, which has had a disappointing season, became bowl eligible with a 36-30 victory over Texas A&M. The game was tight at the finish after the Sooners built a 21-0 lead.
"I wouldn't say it's a sigh of relief," defensive end Calvin Thibodeaux said. "We still have self-confidence that we can get the job done. We're still thinking bigger than that."
Texas A&M's bowl hopes took a hit in that loss, with only the season finale against Texas remaining.
"We did put ourselves in a hole but we kept battling," coach Dennis Franchione said. "I saw a group that never quit believing in themselves.
"You take away a pretty good feeling about those guys in the locker room, about how they fought."
Baylor's loss to Missouri means the Bears will not go to a bowl for the 11th straight season.
"Everybody was thinking about bowl implications," wide receiver Dominique Zeigler said. "Some people played a little too tight at the beginning because it's one of those games where if you lose you go home."