STILLWATER, Okla. – With nonconference play winding down, two Big 12 South schools will meet in an early divisional showdown to remain undefeated.
One team is from Oklahoma, the other from Texas. No, not the Sooners and the Longhorns. This week's lone Big 12 game between undefeated teams is not the Red River Rivalry, but Texas A&M (3-0) at Oklahoma State (3-0) on Thursday night.
Both teams come in without a blemish on their records, but also without much acclaim leading into the nationally televised showcase. It's the first time the Aggies have been on TV this season.
"As long as we play every game like we're supposed to, we'll be where we want to be at the end of the year. It's OK that we haven't been on TV, we'll get our time eventually," said Von Miller, A&M's ace pass rusher.
The game provides the winner the early position as the top challenger to perennial powers Oklahoma and Texas in the Big 12 South, and perhaps a shot at cracking the Top 25.
"Our coaching staff has enjoyed being under the radar, but our players understand the importance of performing in big games," Cowboys coach Mike Gundy said. "We want them to relax, we want them to go out and have fun and play hard and play with great effort."
Oklahoma State will be trying to carry over its momentum from an eye-popping offensive start. The Cowboys lead the nation with 596 yards of total offense per game and boast the country's No. 1 receiver (Justin Blackmon, 144 ypg), No. 3 passer (Brandon Weeden, 325 ypg) and No. 3 rusher (Kendall Hunter, 158 ypg).
They've scored 65 points in two of their three games, blowouts against Washington State and Tulsa, and edged Troy 41-38 in between.
Texas A&M opened with back-to-back routs and is trying to get back on track after a sloppy 27-20 win against Florida International.
"We had a blowout game and a big confidence-booster, and they had a bit of a scare," OSU cornerback Andrew McGee said. "Now, that could help them in a way, too, because I think it helped us against Troy. It kind of (brought) us back to reality, that you can't sleep on anybody."
The Aggies also started last season 3-0 but followed the hot start with a three-game losing streak that included a second-straight loss to Oklahoma State. The slide started when Arkansas put up 30 consecutive points in turning the Southwest Classic into a 47-19 rout.
"We're a year older and a year wiser. I don't think we're as fragile as we were a year ago," Aggies coach Mike Sherman said. "When things went south in the fourth ballgame last year against Arkansas, and they went south very fast, I don't think we handled that very well.
"I think our team is more mentally mature to be able to handle the adversity and the bumps in the road that come in a game. If you can't handle those things, it's difficult to win games consistently."
Texas A&M showed early signs of being able to handle hard times when Jerrod Johnson, the conference's preseason offensive player of the year, threw interceptions on four straight drives to start the second half against Florida International. The Aggies trailed 20-6 at the start of the fourth quarter, then came back with 21 unanswered points to win.
"It was a game that keeps us humble," linebacker Garrick Williams said. "We faced adversity, and maybe last year we wouldn't have gotten out of that. This year, I think we are able to fight through that and we are ready for things like that."
Oklahoma State, which is averaging three takeaways per game, will by trying to get Johnson rattled again.
"All the offense revolves around him," defensive tackle Nigel Nicholas said. "So if we just keep him unsettled and hit him a couple times and get him frustrated and impatient, we should come out with the win."
The Cowboys will be trying to win three straight games for the first time in a series they trail 17-8. Texas A&M had won 10 of the previous 12 games, including one-point decisions in 2006 and 2007, before OSU's recent success.
"They're going to be fired up to beat us since we beat them last year," Nicholas said. "We know we've got to come with it, play them like it's any other team, play like it's any other game."