When Oklahoma State lost its opening Big 12 game of the 2013 season at West Virginia, it looked nothing like a team picked by the media to win the conference.
The Cowboys couldn't run the ball against the Mountaineers and were terrible on special teams. Then-starting quarterback J.W. Walsh, despite throwing for over 300 yards, threw two costly interceptions.
Fast forward a little over a month, and following a 52-34 win over Texas Tech, the Cowboys look like the team expected to compete for its second conference championship in three years.
Oklahoma State jumped out to a fast 21-0 lead before the end of the first quarter with help from a fumble from Texas Tech tight end Jace Amaro and a blocked punt. But the quick start turned into a more even fight in the second quarter when Tech outscored the Pokes 21-7 to bring the halftime score to 28-24 in favor of Oklahoma State.
That lead could have been bigger had it not been for a Davis Webb fumble that was instead ruled down by forward progress.
Woulda, coulda, shoulda. And it's really Texas Tech saying it more than Oklahoma State right now.
The Cowboys played their best football game of the season against the Red Raiders. Perhaps the wheels are starting to fall off of Texas Tech's bandwagon, but this was one of the most impressive wins in the Big 12 this season.
OSU's ground game, which finally hit full speed against Iowa State, picked up where it left off. Meanwhile, the vulnerability Texas Tech showed in run defense against Oklahoma reared its head on Saturday.
Cowboys running back Desmond Roland rushed for 91 yards with another three touchdowns to give him seven in the past two games. Rennie Childs added another 70 yards on nine carries, and even quarterback Clint Chelf rushed for 88 yards and two scores.
Gundy: "I'm hoping (Roland) the next Keith Toston, gets stronger as the game goes on." #okstate— Carson Cunningham (@CarsonC5) November 3, 2013
One of those runs was a 67-yard scamper on a quarterback draw. Per Kelly Hines of the Tulsa World, it was the longest touchdown run by an OSU quarterback in at least 30 years.
Tidbit from the postgame notes: Clint Chelf's 67-yard run was the longest by an #okstate QB since at least 1982.— Kelly Hines (@KellyHinesTW) November 3, 2013
Oklahoma State's improved running game has made its offense significantly more potent. Put another way, it looks more like the Oklahoma State offense fans have come to know and love in Stillwater.
And the defense under first-year coordinator Glenn Spencer is taking the ball away. The Cowboys forced three turnovers against Texas Tech, though were only able to convert those into seven points. In fact, the other two ended in turnovers for Oklahoma State.
But Tech has been struggling to hold on to the football lately, and the Pokes took their turn stealing possessions, even if only for a few plays. If a defense is going to give up an inordinate number of yards—Tech outgained OSU 549 to 492 in total yards—then it has to force turnovers. That's what Oklahoma State did and has been doing all season.
Who is the best team in the Big 12?
Now, head coach Mike Gundy's team is putting everything together at the right time.
Oklahoma State shouldn't have any trouble at home against Kansas and gets two of its final three opponents—Baylor on Nov. 23 and Oklahoma on Dec. 7—at home. OSU heads to Austin to take on Texas on Nov. 16. The schedule is tough, but Oklahoma State seems prepared for it now more than ever.
Also keep in mind that the Bears and Sooners have had hard times stopping the run. Baylor gave up over 300 yards on the ground to Kansas State, and Oklahoma has lost two key players—linebacker Corey Nelson and defensive tackle Jordan Phillips—in its defensive front. OSU could be one of the best rushing teams in the conference by year's end.
Looking back, Oklahoma State's loss in Morgantown in late September feels like a good team that hadn't found its stride yet. With just weeks left in the regular season, the Pokes could be hitting theirs at just the right time.