Oklahoma State vs. West Virginia: Cowboys' Big 12 Title Hopes Ruined in Loss?

Brian LeighFeatured ColumnistSeptember 28, 2013

Oklahoma State fell from the ranks of the unbeaten on Saturday, falling to a woebegone West Virginia squad 30-21 and moving to 0-1 in conference play.

That's the bad news.

The good news is that the Cowboys still play in the Big 12—and as far as 2013 is concerned, that makes them far from out of the conference title hunt. The Big 12 has rarely (if ever) seemed so wide open; Baylor and Oklahoma have looked good but still face major questions, while Texas and TCU have looked varying degrees of underwhelming.

Still, as the clock ticked toward zero in Morgantown, pundits like Jake Trotter of ESPN were quick to eulogize OSU's conference championship hopes:

That seems a bit hasty.

The Cowboys were preseason favorites to win the conference for a reason. They're probably the Big 12's most talented team, and one bad road performance doesn't change that. Are there problems they need to fix? Sure. But the season is long and full of changes in momentum.

Is J.W. Walsh the answer at quarterback?
Is J.W. Walsh the answer at quarterback?Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

That being said, OSU does have an uphill battle to climb. No Big 12 champion has lost its conference opener since 2007, when Oklahoma fell at Colorado before eventually winning the Big 12. That list includes Oklahoma State in 2011, when they started league play with a huge win at Texas A&M and rode that momentum to the Fiesta Bowl.

By losing in Morgantown, the Cowboys have, obviously, dug themselves into a hole. What must they do to climb out of it? Well, they've gotta be close to perfect going forward. One loss doesn't consign them to disappointment, but it drastically alters their margin for error.

Here's OSU's remaining schedule:

That's hardly a murderer's row of competition. Texas Tech is the only ranked road game on OSU's schedule, and though the Raiders have looked better this year, Oklahoma State might still be favored in Lubbock. They will definitely be favored in Austin against a Longhorns team that's falling apart at the seams.

Then, in the season's final two weeks, OSU gets Baylor and Oklahoma—ostensibly the two new "favorites" to win the conference—in back-to-back games at home. If they can hold serve at Boone Pickens Stadium, something they've proven quite adept at doing in recent years, Oklahoma State still has a pretty clear road to the title.

So, yes, Oklahoma State is in a pickle after losing to West Virginia. It needs to get back to the drawing board, figure out what went wrong on offense and then course-correct as quickly as possible. But the Cowboys should still be considered with Oklahoma and Baylor as conference favorites. One loss is not a death sentence for the Cowboys' hopes for a Big 12 title.

The same cannot be said, however, of their BCS title aspirations.