College Station, Texas After all Texas A&M; has been through in the last month, the Aggies still are tied for first place in the Big 12 South with four games left.
And what a four-game stretch.
Every opponent is ranked in the top 20 this week, starting with Saturday's home game against No. 12 Kansas University (7-0, 3-0 Big 12). A&M; (6-2, 3-1) visits No. 4 Oklahoma and No. 13 Missouri before its traditional finale against Texas, ranked 17th this week.
"Everybody's really got to step up," said A&M; tight end Martellus Bennett. "We're the team everybody wants to beat and expects to beat."
It's already been a trying season at A&M;, to say the least.
The Aggies were bombarded with questions for weeks about coach Dennis Franchione's future after he was caught giving out inside information about his team in a secretive for-pay newsletter to boosters. That scandal hit between humiliating nationally televised losses at Miami and Texas Tech.
And now this, the most difficult finishing stretch for any team in the country, going by opponents' winning percentage. The four teams have a cumulative 26-4 record.
"This four-game stretch is a grind," said running back Jorvorskie Lane. "We're just going to have to fight through it."
A rugged November has become an annual rite of passage at A&M.; Last year, the Aggies wrapped up with close losses to Nebraska and Oklahoma at Kyle Field before beating Texas in Austin. In 2005, they finished with visits to Texas Tech and Oklahoma before hosting Texas, and lost all three.
"You've just got to learn that November is going to be that way," Franchione said. "Hopefully, you've gotten better in October, so you can manage this."
It's hard to know if A&M; has.
The Aggies routed Nebraska 36-14 last Saturday, their first win in six visits to Lincoln since 1955. But the Cornhuskers are headed for one of the worst seasons in school history, and the Aggies lost 35-7 to Texas Tech the previous week.
"After Saturday's game, you played a pretty good game in all three aspects," Franchione said. "If this was last Tuesday, I probably wouldn't feel quite as good."
A&M; has won three of its last four games and all five of its home games. The victory at Nebraska was enough to boost the Aggies' hopes for the last four games.
"For the morale of the team, it was big," said senior defensive tackle Red Bryant. "Early in the year, this team showed a lot of resilience. We really could've went in the tank."
At the start of the season, this week's game looked like the breather of the bunch.
A perennial doormat in the old Big 8, Kansas had losing records in each of its first nine seasons in the Big 12. Now, the Jayhawks are one of only five unbeaten Football Bowl Subdivision teams in the country and have earned their highest ranking since 1995.
Kansas has 27 players from Texas, and Bennett said he's not surprised how good the Jayhawks have become - though he joked that he would only expect to see them ranked this high in basketball, not football.
"But a lot of their players are from Texas," he said. "Whenever you have athletes out of Texas, you always expect to do good because that's where the best football is in high school."
The rise of Kansas fits right into the topsy-turvy college football season that's included Appalachian State beating Michigan, Stanford shocking Southern Cal and South Florida climbing to No. 2 in The Associated Press poll and the first Bowl Championship Series standings.
If all that can happen, Franchione muses, why can't the Aggies win their final four games?
"I hope it is bad to be a top-ranked team," he said with a smile. "It's certainly an unusual year in college football."