This season was supposed to be the Cowboys’ year. The stars were aligned in Stillwater for Oklahoma State to break the stranglehold of Texas and Oklahoma in the Big 12 South and be a serious contender for the national championship.
Oklahoma State had a great quarterback in Zac Robinson, a great running back in Kendall Hunter, and a great wide receiver in Dez Bryant. The season opened with Oklahoma State ranked No. 9 in the nation—the highest pre-season ranking ever for the Cowboys—and, after a 24-10 opening day victory over Georgia, the sky was the limit.
Then, a week later, reality crept back onto the Oklahoma State campus. The Cowboys were upset by Houston, 45-35, to recede back into the backwater of the nation’s consciousness.
A five-game winning streak brought back new hope, but a 41-14 home loss to Texas ended any national title aspirations, along with the hopes for the the first football championship in Stillwater since the 1976 team finished in a three-way tie with Colorado and Oklahoma atop the Big Eight (Colorado earned the Orange Bowl berth. Oklahoma State went to the Tangerine Bowl—since Oklahoma State joined the Big Seven to form the Big Eight in 1960, the Cowboys have never won an outright title).
Still, there is no pity party going on for the Cowboys in Boulder. Oklahoma State is still 8-2, 5-1, and ranked No. 12 in the nation. The Cowboys will be prohibitive favorites to defeat Colorado on national television Thursday night.
Let’s see if there are any reasons to believe the experts will not be proven correct. Here are this week’s “T.I.P.S.”
You don’t get to be the No. 12 team in the nation without putting a great deal of talent on the field. Still, the 2009 season has not worked out the way Cowboys’ fans envisioned for quarterback Zac Robinson, running back Kendall Hunter, and wide receiver Dez Bryant.
Let’s start with the player who won’t be on the field Thursday. Wide receiver/kick returner/future NFL star Dez Bryant was ruled ineligible to play until September, 2010, as a result of his lying to NCAA investigators about his off-season contact with former NFL player Deion Sanders. Upon hearing of the one-year suspension, Bryant opted to declare himself eligible for the 2010 NFL draft, where he is expected to be a first round draft choice.
Another future NFL draft choice who has not had the 2009 season he planned on is running back Kendall Hunter . The junior tailback has been injured for much of the season, missing five games after playing in the first two.
Hunter is slowly returning to form, however, which is bad news for Colorado. Hunter had only one carry against Texas, then had nine carries for 47 yards against Iowa State, then 17 carries for 68 yards last weekend against Texas Tech. Look for Hunter to increase his carries against the Buffs, going out in search of his first 100-yard game of the season.
Oklahoma State might rely on Hunter more than it had anticipated due to an injury sustained by the third member of the OSU trio of offensive stars. Late in the Texas Tech game last weekend, quarterback Zac Robinson was hit hard by Red Raider Jamal Wall, and it was feared that Robinson had sustained a concussion.
“As of now, we expect him to play,” said Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy on Monday, indicating that Robinson had been “very responsive” to tests administered to him Sunday.
Gundy also said (and, Buff fans, you can read into the statement what you will about what Gundy was saying—between the lines—about how happy he is that Colorado is his opponent this weekend, and not Oklahoma), “If he’s not ready to play, then we’re not going to play him. Just sitting him because of the opponent we are playing, we’re not in a position to do that, especially with a guy that means as much as he does to our football team.” Ouch.
This is not to say that Oklahoma State has to rely on out-scoring opponents to win. Far from it. Oklahoma State has a veteran defense, often lining up with as many as nine seniors on the field. The Cowboys are seventh in the nation in rushing defense; 25th in scoring defense.
Oklahoma State may start Robinson, but the guess here is that the Cowboys will look to put away the Buffs quickly, so that their star quarterback can be fully healed for the Bedlam Series showdown with Oklahoma next weekend.
What does Colorado have going for it this weekend in this category? Well, not much. Gone with the loss to Iowa State are any remnants of hope for a winning season, a bowl bid, and a Big 12 North title.
What is there left to play for?
The coaches’ jobs? If that were the case, the Buffs would have been in hyper drive since the Toledo loss.
For the seniors? There is a very small class of seniors this year, with only tight ends and linebackers seeing much playing time amongst those playing their last two games. Anyone think the Buffs can put together two games of “Win one for ….”?
To avoid new negative records? The Buffs tied a school record with their 10th consecutive road loss last weekend (actually 12, if you count the neutral site games against Alabama and Florida State), and set a new school record with their eighth consecutive road loss in conference games (funny, Dave Plati forgot to mention these new records in his “Game Notes” for the press this weekend—perhaps because both records date back to the “blue” period in Colorado history).
How about this: The Buffs will play well because they have everything to play for and have nothing to lose, while the Cowboys will not play well because they have nothing to play for Thusday and everything to lose?
It would not be hard to speculate that the players at Oklahoma State are looking past Colorado. Up next is their grudge game against Oklahoma. The Sooners are wounded, suffering through a 6-4 season in which Oklahoma started the season ranked No. 3 in the nation.
A win over Oklahoma gives the Cowboys a second place finish in the Big 12 South and likely a New Year’s Day bowl. Not a national championship game, but still, if Oklahoma State can finish above Oklahoma in the standings, it will be a good season.
The Buffs need the Cowboys to be looking at the CU game as a mere warmup, and wanting to keep it vanilla in order to better prepare for the Sooners.
It’s a long shot. For the Buffs to be successful in this gambit, it will require not only Oklahoma State to be indifferent, but for Colorado to come out with success from the opening gun.
To date, the Buffs have not yet proven they have the ability to do that—the Buffs have been out-scored 78-27 in the first quarter this season.
P —Preparation / Schedule
As noted, the biggest game of the season lies ahead for Oklahoma State. That is about the only scheduling factor that works in favor of the Buffs.
It’s a five-day week for both teams, but Colorado played on the road last weekend; Oklahoma State played at home.
Colorado, you may have heard, lost last weekend; Oklahoma State won.
It’s senior day for Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have 23 seniors on their roster—it’ll take awhile for the cheering to subside during introductions. The Buffs will be able to stand around and watch, listening as the Cowboy crowd goes nuts for its seniors.
The game will be on ESPN. Think the Cowboys and their fans will want to make an impressive showing to the nation’s poll voters and bowl representatives?
Yuck. Yuck. And Yuck.
First of all, if you have gotten this far, I would like to thank you. You are truly a Buff fan.
But if you are a regular in reading the “T.I.P.S.”, you know that this section is not for the weak willed.
Colorado remains mired in the 100’s in six statistical categories, including vital categories of rushing offense (112th), total offense (105th), and sacks allowed (117th—actually one spot higher than last week, after the Buffs gave up only two sacks to Iowa State).
Colorado is near the bottom in the nation in the most important numbers, scoring offense (94th, with 21.9 ppg.) and scoring defense (86th, 28.7 ppg.). There are only a handful of categories in which Colorado is even in the top half, with only passing offense (at 59th) being a statistic of significance.
Oklahoma State, though, suffers no such maladies. The Cowboys are in the top 25 in the nation in eight categories, including rushing offense and scoring offense; as well as rushing and scoring defense.
The Cowboys are weak in passing defense (92nd, giving up 244.3 ypg.), but that is more than offset by OSU’s 7th-ranked rushing defense.
For Colorado to win, the Buffs must control the ball, keeping it away from the Cowboys’ explosive offense. When on offense, the Buffs must have their most productive passing game of the season.
(Not giving up three turnovers and 110 yards in penalties would probably help as well).