Date: November 27
Time: 8 pm EST
Venue: T. Boone Pickens Stadium
Vegas Line: OSU -2.5
It's all right there for the Oklahoma State Cowboys: the Big 12 South, a top 10 finish, a BCS bowl bid. Of course, Big Brother - the Oklahoma Sooners - stands in their way.
This year is different. The money men have made OSU the betting favorite. The Pokes are playing under the lights in Boone Pickens' palatial stadium. The Sooners stink on the road.
Oh, and this is best OSU team with the best coaching staff in who knows how long.
This is the game Mike Gundy and his program are supposed to win. OU's chances of spoiling their dream season depend on:
1. How OSU Handles the Pressure
At what point can a team actually want a win too much?
This game reminds me a lot of the Nebraska-Texas game earlier this year. The Cornhuskers were hosting UT in a down year and looking to settle some scores after a long period of futility. NU played tight, made too many easy mistakes and paid the price.
It strikes me that the Pokes are facing a similar situation this weekend. How can you tell if OSU is too tight? Dropped passes, false starts, over-pursuit and late hit penalties.
2. Stripping Cowboys
As I mentioned earlier this week, defensive coordinator Bill Young has instilled a ruthless, ball-hawking mentality in his defense. OSU's defenders strip the ball from opponents exceedingly well, and those turnovers.
OU, on the other hand, rarely fumbles. Something's gotta give.
3. Big Plays on Special Teams
In both of the Sooners' losses this year, they've allowed touchdowns on kickoff returns. Conversely, OU's punt coverage has been tremendous, with the Sooners forcing a surprising number of turnovers on muffed punts.
If either side snatches up some cheap points off of special teams plays, I expect that will be the difference in the game.
4. Austin Box's Availability
All signs point to Box playing this week after tweaking an ankle last week against Baylor. Assuming he's full speed, that's great news for the Sooners.
Time and again, Box has proven to be a great asset at linebacker against spread offenses. His early time as a defensive back attests to his coverage skills, and he quarterbacks the defense better than any of OU's other options.
Redshirt freshman Tom Wort may be more of a disruptive force when he's in the game at middle linebacker, but the D just functions better with Box on the field.
5. Matchups in the Passing Game
Both teams feature a receiving corps among the best in the nation, led by superstars Ryan Broyles for OU and Justin Blackmon for the Pokes. Neither team have really been stopped through the air this year; if anything, they've only gotten stronger as the season has worn on.
While Blackmon and Broyles pose major problems for the defenses, "taking them away" is easier said than done. Devote too many resources to locking them down, and supporting players such as Kenny Stills and Josh Cooper will make defenses pay.
The Sooner secondary seems a little stronger than OSU's, but whatever advantage that offers seems slight.
Honestly, I've gone back and forth on this game all week.
This spot seems to set up terribly for OU. A nearly full TBP Stadium will be rocking with tens of thousands of exclusively OSU season ticket holders, and the Sooners' road struggles are nothing new.
The arrival of genius offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen has made the Cowboys' offense more dangerous than it ever was under Gundy, who's a celebrated offensive mind in his own right. Handsomely compensated OSU alum Bill Young has had another year to coach up the defense and implement his schemes.
All in all, this just feels like OSU's time.
But I don't think it is.
There's more sizzle than steak with this OSU team. The Pokes' best wins this year are probably Texas and Texas Tech - not exactly vintage versions of either squad. When A&M came to Stillwater this year for a Thursday night game, it took a patented Jerrod Johnson implosion for the Cowboys to escape with a win at the gun. In their toughest test so far, the Cowboys allowed 51 points in their own house against Nebraska, a team that scored 6 versus Texas A&M, 13 versus Texas and 17 against South Dakota St.
This OU team isn't nearly as good as Bob Stoops' best. However, the Sooners are undoubtedly the more tested team in this matchup. More importantly, OU is built to bitch OSU's defense.
The Cornhuskers threw for 323 yards against OSU, besting their next-best passing performance, against Western Kentucky, by nearly 100 yards. (For the season, NU is averaging 135 yards passing per game.) Landry Jones may not be a world-beater at quarterback, but if T-Magic and a guy who A&M benched in favor of a wide receiver can do that, 'Stache should be able to go to work.
OSU's balanced offense is too good and OU's defense is too mediocre to expect the Sooners to shut down the Cowboys completely. I do trust OU's defense to get more stops, though.