Is Oklahoma State BCS-Ready, or Just Ready to Be Exposed by Tough Final Stretch?November 19, 2013
Understandably, interest in Baylor is at an all-time high. The Bears, with one of the most exciting offenses in the country and an improved defense, are 9-0 and on the cusp of a Big 12, and possibly a BCS, championship for the first time.
But Oklahoma State, which hosts Baylor this Saturday in a Top-10 showdown, would like a word.
The 9-1 Cowboys have won six in a row since inexplicably losing at West Virginia in September. They've also found a consistent quarterback in Clint Chelf and a running game, led primarily by Chelf and running back Desmond Roland.
The defense, which has been a ball-hawking group all year, is tied for fourth in the nation in turnover margin. Now, it's all coming together at the right time.
"They’ve developed a lot of team chemistry over the past five weeks," Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said Monday on the Big 12 coaches teleconference. "College football is all about the players...The coaches are overrated."
For Saturday's showdown for the Big 12 lead, Baylor will be without wide receiver Tevin Reese (wrist) and offensive lineman Spencer Drango (back). Oklahoma State could be without receiver Josh Stewart (foot), but is generally healthy.
But is Oklahoma State up to the challenge? Or, like Texas did in Week 12, will the Cowboys come back down to earth?
The first thing to know about Baylor is that it makes even the smallest mistakes by opponents look colossal. Case in point: Texas Tech scored three first-quarter touchdowns against Baylor in Week 12...and still trailed heading into the second quarter. That's because the Red Raiders missed an extra point, allowed a punt return for a touchdown and threw an interception that resulted in a Baylor score one play later.
In short, Baylor has a much wider margin for error because of how quickly it can score.
So while Oklahoma State's defense allows the fewest points per game in the Big 12, it could still play well against Baylor and give up far more than the 21.3 points it normally allows.
But just as Oklahoma State can't give Baylor more opportunities to score, the Cowboys must take away opportunities too. That's an area where Glenn Spencer's defense excels. Baylor's offense is going to get its yards; what's important is ensuring those drives don't end in touchdowns.
Even if Oklahoma State falls to Baylor, there's a chance to atone by beating in-state rival Oklahoma to end the season. The Sooners may have found some offensive stability with redshirt freshman quarterback Trevor Knight, but that's far from certain. Plus, Knight had some costly turnovers early in the season, which was part of the reason he lost his job and didn't immediately see the field after his knee injury.
Again, Oklahoma State excels at taking the ball away, having made 19 interceptions and recovered seven fumbles.
And if the Cowboys' running game can get going, Oklahoma's defense will be in a tough spot. The Sooners aren't good at stopping the run, thanks in part to injuries to defensive tackle Jordan Phillips and linebacker Corey Nelson. The better Oklahoma State is in the ground game, the more dangerous its offense becomes. With the emergence of Chelf and Roland, Oklahoma State is averaging 48 points per game over the past four games.
Oklahoma State should be a favorite at home over Oklahoma. And although Baylor is a 9.5-point favorite against the Pokes, according to VegasInsider.com, Saturday's game in Stillwater feels more like a toss-up.
Nearly two months after that disheartening loss in Morgantown, Oklahoma State looks more like a BCS-ready team than one about to crumble under the weight of the competition.
Ben Kercheval is the lead writer for Big 12 football. All quotes obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise. All stats courtesy of the NCAA. You can follow Ben on Twitter @BenKercheval.