Far more than state bragging rights is on ranked Oklahoma State ranked Oklahoma Sooners do battle in the latest installment of the Bedlam Series.
A victory would give Oklahoma its national-leading 33rd 10-win season and its second straight Big 12 Conference title. OU has won four of the last five Big 12 crowns while no other league member has won more than three. The Sooners are 9-2 overall, including 6-2 in conference, and they are coming off a 26-6 victory over Iowa State, the only team to beat Oklahoma State all season.
"What happened to the one true champion that was promoted when I was down there for Big 12 media day? Isn't that what everyone talked about?" said Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops on potentially sharing the conference crown with Oklahoma State. That means if they [Oklahoma State] win, they are the champions. If we win, we are since we would have beaten K-State and them. It's pretty simple math to me."
The Cowboys won their first 10 games this season and had the inside track to the national title game. No one believed that Iowa State would be able to hang with Oklahoma State two weeks ago in Ames, but the Cyclones pulled off a major upset with a 37-31, double-overtime win. Even a victory this weekend over OU likely would not earn Iowa State enough BCS points to jump over Alabama as the second-ranked team, but a Big 12 title is certainly motivation to perform at a high level on Saturday.
"I've said this for the last few years and I said it in August and throughout the season that in order for us to win a Big 12 Championship, we have to go through Austin and Norman; and I don't think that changes until a team accomplishes that goal," said Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy on Monday.
Oklahoma holds a commanding 82-16-7 series advantage over Oklahoma State, which includes victories in each of the last eight meetings.
The Oklahoma offense has been hit hard by injuries this season, as both superstar WR Ryan Broyles (83 rec, 1,157 yds, 10 TDs) and RB Dom Whaley (627 yards, nine TDs) were both lost for the season last month due to injury. Still, the Sooners have to be respected because of the ability of QB Landry Jones. He has thrown for 4,052 yards and 28 TDs against 12 INTs and has completed 64.1 percent of his passes. Kenny Stills has emerged as the go-to guy in the absence of Broyles, as he has made 52 catches for 755 yards and eight scores.
While OU is racking up 43.0 ppg and 547.9 total ypg, the team is limiting opponents to 20.8 ppg and 373.0 total ypg. The defense has been solid against the run, holding foes to 3.4 yards per attempt. There is some room for improvement against the pass however, as opposing QBs have tossed 16 TDs against the Sooners and are averaging 12.9 yards per completion. Fran Alexander is the defense's most dominant player, as he has posted 18.0 TFL to date, including 8.5 sacks.
Against Iowa State last week, the Sooners posted 509 total yards thanks to a tremendously balanced offensive effort that produced more than 250 yards both rushing and passing. Jones didn't throw a single touchdown, however, and was intercepted twice, as the only two offensive TDs came from Blake Bell on runs. Fortunately, the Sooners came up with four takeaways and were solid against both the run and the pass.
"It was pleasing to play soundly and to limit them the way we were able to," said Stoops of his defense.
That defense will be challenged by one of the truly elite offensive teams in the nation, as Oklahoma State is posting 49.8 ppg and 562.6 total ypg. Brandon Weeden, the quarterback of the Cowboys, has completed a staggering 73 percent of his passes for 4,111 yards and 34 TDs against 12 INTs. His top target may very well be the nation's best receiver, as Justin Blackmon has beaten constant added coverage to the tune of 103 catches, 1,241 yards and 15 scores. Just a junior, Blackmon will be permitted to participate in this weekend's Senior Day activities by his coach.
"There's a good chance that Justin is going to be playing professional football next year," said Gundy. "He's earned the right to walk on that field with his mother and father. When we have a player that's in his situation, we felt like that was the right thing to do."
There is another offensive star to mention, as tailback Joseph Randle has quietly rushed for 1,042 yards and 21 TDs. Clearly, the OSU offense is explosive, but the defense has been a bit disappointing. After all, the Cowboys are permitting 27.3 ppg and 453.6 total ypg, numbers that aren't up to national title caliber. A total of 20 rushing touchdowns have been permitted by Gundy's team, which is yielding 186.6 rushing ypg.
Looking at the stats from the loss to Iowa State, OSU lost the time of possession battle by over 10 minutes and turned the ball over five times, the two most obvious reasons for the setback. Weeden tossed three TDs and finished with 476 passing yards, but he was intercepted three times in the affair. Randle was held out of the end zone and limited to 49 rushing yards. Defensively, the Cowboys were victimized for 568 total yards and five TDs by a modest ISU offense.