The final quarter of Central Michigan's 2014 season has Oklahoma State's attention heading into their matchup on Thursday night.
The Chippewas trailed Western Kentucky 49-14 in the fourth quarter of the Bahamas Bowl last year, yet had a chance to win after scoring a wild touchdown with time expired. After the play, which included a Hail Mary and several laterals, the Chippewas lost 49-48 when they failed on a two-point conversion.
''They're never out of a ballgame, at least they've shown that in the past,'' Oklahoma State defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer said. ''So they're used to coming back and used to not getting down when things go bad. They've moved the ball against a lot of good defenses this past year, and a lot of those kids are back.''
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The quarterback who threw that Hail Mary, Cooper Rush, is back. He passed for 27 touchdowns last season, including seven in the Bahamas Bowl loss. He ranked among the Mid-American Conference leaders in touchdown passes, pass efficiency, passing yards per game and total offense last year.
Rush, who will start his 24th consecutive game, said no matter the quality of the opponent, it comes down to basics.
''We've got to be smart, play smart - that's always the key,'' he said. ''Don't beat yourself, and you have a chance to beat anybody. That's just how football is everywhere. The team that makes the least amount of mistakes usually comes out on top.''
Figuring out exactly what Rush will do will be a challenge for the Cowboys because Central Michigan has a new coach in John Bonamego.
''We really just can't go 100 percent off film from what you've seen last year, so that's the biggest question,'' Spencer said. ''We're always uneasy about the first game. On our side of the ball you could get any formation, you could get anything. They haven't shown what their favorites are. It's nerve-racking.''
The Cowboys counter Central Michigan's offense with a defense that has its share of star power, starting with two experienced defensive ends. Emmanuel Ogbah was a first-team All-Big 12 honoree last season after notching 11 sacks and 17 tackles for loss last year. He has at least one sack in six of his past eight games. Jimmy Bean had 42 tackles last season and six tackles for loss. Both have started 26 consecutive games.
If Rush gets his passes off, he'll deal with an experienced secondary. Cornerbacks Kevin Peterson, Ashton Lampkin, Michael Hunter and Ramon Richards and safeties Jordan Sterns and Tre Flowers all have been starters.
Peterson, a senior who is on the Jim Thorpe Award watch list, is the top returnee. He had 13 passes defended and two interceptions a year ago. Hunter, a senior cornerback, is a transfer from Indiana who started the past two seasons for the Hoosiers. .The talent gives the Cowboys confidence that they can handle whatever Central Michigan brings.
''I feel like we have an advantage because we have speed, so we're going to run to the ball,'' Ogbah said. ''That makes it less space that the offense has to make plays happen.''
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP