For the first time in 36 seasons and just the third time ever, two Top 10 teams will face off at Kyle Field when the No. 8 Texas A&M hosts No. 6 Oklahoma State at 2.30 p.m. on Saturday. It will be the first Top 10 matchup at Kyle Field since 1975 when the No. 2 Aggies clinched a share of the Southwest Conference title with a 20-10 victory over No. 5 Texas.
The matchup holds monumental implications for both squads as it represents each team's conference opener. The winner of this game will likely fight against No. 1 Oklahoma for the title of 2011 Big 12 Champion.
Both squads enter Saturday sitting at 2-0 and leaving an impressive wake of destruction in their paths. Oklahoma State boasts the nation's No. 1 passing offense, and the Aggies are one of only three teams to rank in the Top 20 nationally in scoring offense and scoring defense.
This looks sure to be a hard-fought, high-scoring struggle that could very well come down to the final play, much like last year's 38-35 OSU victory. Here are five bold predictions for when Texas A&M takes on Oklahoma State Saturday afternoon.
Texas A&M running back Cyrus Gray's 117-yard rushing effort against Kansas in 2010 began a streak of 100-yard games that has stretched to nine, and against Oklahoma State on Saturday, Gray will match two-time All-American Darren Lewis' school record of 10 consecutive 100-yard rushing games. Gray has averaged 130.1 yards per game during the streak and has toted the ball 20 or more times in seven straight games, which he had done only twice previously.
The Cowboys rush defense ranks No. 8 in the Big 12, allowing 171.3 yards per game, and the Aggies will look to keep the OSU offense off the field by controlling the clock with the ground attack. Gray and running back Christine Michael will be featured heavily in head coach Mike Sherman's offensive game plan. Look for Gray to eclipse the 100-yard mark en route to yet another big day carrying the ball.
Justin Blackmon has been a beast in Stillwater since his freshman year, and backed it up with hardware by winning last season's Biletnikoff Award as the nation's top wideout. Three games into 2011, Blackmon ranks third in the Big 12, averaging 109.7 yds/game receiving to go along with three touchdowns.
He built on an NCAA record against Arizona by posting his 14th straight game with at least 100 receiving yards when he exploded for a 128-yard, two touchdown effort. That streak ended with his seven-catch, 57-yard, one-touchdown performance last Saturday night (or was it Sunday morning?) in a rain-delayed game against Tulsa.
But don't be fooled: Blackmon, not A&M's Jeff Fuller, will be the most feared pass catcher at Kyle Field on Saturday.
A&M's depth in the secondary is often overlooked, and cornerback Coryell Judie has been shortlisted for both the Jim Thorpe and Bronko Nagurski Awards, but Blackmon reaching triple digits is a virtual certainty. Look for quarterback Brandon Weeden to look to Blackmon early and often as he attempts to elude the Aggies' ferocious blitz.
Texas A&M's front seven leads the nation in sacks, averaging 5.5 per game, a full sack per game higher than any other Big 12 opponent. Senior defensive tackle Tony Jerod-Eddie leads the league, averaging 1.5 sacks/game alone. Defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter's 3-4 hybrid scheme is predicated on pressure, but I expect the Aggies to fall far short of their average against the Cowboys.
For one, OSU boasts one of the nation's most competent lines, returning all five starters from last season and two potential Outland Trophy winners in guard Lane Taylor and tackle Levy Adcock.
Secondly, the Cowboys offense is built around a rapid-release passing attack. And with as talented a playmaker as wide receiver Justin Blackmon, why would Weeden want to hold onto the ball and wait for Jerod-Eddie and his buddies?
Although Weeden leads the nation with 384.7 yds/game, his six interceptions also top the charts. I think Weeden will go over 300 yards, but he'll also throw two costly picks.
Oklahoma State running back Joseph Randle enters Saturday's matchup No. 10 nationally with 126 rushing yards per game. His seven rushing scores rank third nationally and he's averaging 6.1 yards per carry. The shifty sophomore has also accrued 117 receiving yards and ranks 21st nationally with 165 all-purpose yards per game.
Although the Aggies allowed 128 yards to SMU's Zach Line in the season opener, they clamped down on Idaho's rushing attack in the next game by ceding a paltry 56 yards to Idaho, averaging 1.9 yards per carry.
Randle's effectiveness in this game will come from catching balls out of the backfield because all rushing lanes will be occupied by Texas A&M's dominant front seven.
This winner of this game will be determined by who can muster the most stops. Both defenses are fully aware of the opponent's offensive potency, and I think that a late turnover will be the deciding factor in this battle of Top 10 teams.
The offenses are equally prolific, giving the passing edge to Oklahoma State and the rushing advantage to the Aggies. But Kyle Field has been a graveyard for all of A&M's recent opposition, and the flaws of the Cowboy's 92nd-ranked defense that gives up 413 yards per game will be exposed.
The Aggies are out for revenge after losing last season's 38-35 thriller in Stillwater, and many of the players still remember Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy running up the score in the schools' 2008 matchup that resulted in a 56-28 OSU win.
This game is much more important for the Aggies than the Cowboys; A&M still has to play Oklahoma in Norman while the Cowboys get to host their in-state rivals in what could be an equally entertaining battle. But I think, given the Cowboys' defensive liabilities and the raucous atmosphere of Kyle Field, that the Aggies will emerge from the scrum victorious by a tally of 41-35.