OSU-MSU Bulldogs: Key Match-ups/Prediction

It's time for the return of GoPokes.com's Key Match-ups and Predictions. You can say what you want but our record with predictions has been extremely good the last three seasons. Last season, it was 62-17 straight up and 44-26 against the spread. I almost wish that I didn't have a job and a contract that forbids me from wagering on the pursuits of young college men on the football field.

Of course, if I could and chose to wager then my picks would probably be different and losers. The predictions are fun, but it's picking out and dissecting the match-ups that I enjoy the most.

While I agree that on paper Oklahoma State looks much more experienced and talented than Mississippi State, I would say that I like a lot of the athletes, both jumbo and skill, on the Bulldogs team. There are going to be some really interesting and entertaining match-ups to watch Saturday.

There are enough of those that over the course of fall camp the media has portrayed Oklahoma State head coach Mike Gundy as being against playing a school as talented as Mississippi State in the opener.

Like all coaches, Gundy has had his concerns, and yes he prefers to open the first couple of weeks with softer opposition to let his squad play into the season rather than press in fall camp to be ready for a strong or stronger program in the opener or week two.

That said, Gundy, who like virtually every other college football head coach, has had closed practices and been vague about injuries and camp developments. He is not as agitated about this game as being portrayed.

I can say that Gundy is not playing coy about liking his team or that he is uptight. This week in several conversations I have found him relaxed and energetic about his team's first game.

The players can't wait to play the game and you can tell are fired up about it, maybe as much as I've seen for an opening game in some time. The fans have bought a good number of tickets, but those Texas alumni need to step up to buy tickets and be there.

As for what everybody will see, here goes with week one and a lot of pressure on me getting this right.

Key Match-Ups for OSU vs. Mississippi State in Houston
1. OSU defensive tackles Calvin Barnett and James Castleman
vs. Mississippi State right guard Justin Malone, center Dillon Day, and left guard Gabe Jackson
As far as I'm concerned you could focus a camera in on the interior line the entire game when the Cowboys are on defense and I'd be fine.

This is 6-2 and and average of 298 pounds of athletic defensive tackles going against 6-4, 6-4, and 6-7 with an average of 316 pounds going head to head. Barnett is a projected All-American and so is Jackson of Mississippi State. There is a chance that at least four of these five players will play in the NFL and it could happen for all five.

The premier event here will be Barnett and Jackson lined up toe to toe. Mississippi State with their counters, zones and draws wants to control the run game and the line of scrimmage, and Oklahoma State can't afford to let that happen.

This will be good, and depending on how explosive Oklahoma State is on offense this battle could go a long way in deciding the game. Look for how well both Barnett and Castleman split the double teams. If they can continually command double teams then life is grand.
Advantage: Too Close to Call

2. OSU left tackle Parker Graham and right tackle Daniel Koenig
vs. Mississippi State defensive ends Preston Smith and Denico Autry
The premier battle with the opposite lines in inside (see No. 1 above), but with the Cowboys on offense and the Bulldogs on defense it goes outside. I really think the inside pass rush for Mississippi State will be good too as Autry is promoted as an All-SEC and All-American candidate. The athleticism of the 6-6, 255-pound Smith is well advertised.

With the injury to Devin Davis, Parker Graham moves back outside to tackle and he should be fine. In fact, he might be a better match-up here. Make no mistake the OSU o-line is better off with Davis, but will have to settle for Wickline's next man in. Koenig plays with a mean streak and Florida native is all too aware of SEC football, so he should be primed and ready here. Watching Koenig should be entertaining as well.

The Cowboys had best beware of the Bulldogs tackles as there are a number of Mississippi State followers that believe the tackles may be better pass rushers than the well promoted defensive ends. I like Graham and Koenig to win the majority of battles here.
Advantage: Slight to OSU and Graham and Koenig

3. OSU quarterbacks Clint Chelf and/or J.W. Walsh
vs. Mississippi State defensive back seven
This situation is not just a battle between opponents but also an internal struggle to see who ends up being the flagship quarterback in the offense. Note the designation "and/or" between Chelf and Walsh.

If there were a depth chart released earlier this week at Oklahoma State that is they way it would have read. Chelf and Walsh both have success with running the offense, but little things like Chelf's ability to pick running lanes up the middle and the flat our speed of Walsh that allows him to turn the corner outside for potential huge gains.

As far as throwing, the prevailing opinion has always been that Chelf is a the better overall thrower but Walsh has worked hard to improve his throwing.

The Bulldogs have experienced and talented linebackers with a sensational free safety in Nickoe Whitley, who had three interceptions last season. The corners are inexperienced and that could be critically important for Chelf and Walsh.

The keys are that while neither Chelf nor Walsh have an NFL arm, they are talented, they do have the confidence of their teammates, and they have a background of knowing how to find weak spots in an opposing defense and pick on them like a dentist poking at tooth decay.

Where do the Bulldogs have decay? If the Cowboys offensive line doesn't do its job up front, allowing MSU's big, fast defensive line to get to the quarterbacks, then this verdict gets decided by default.
Advantage: OSU and Chelf and/or Walsh

Game Prediction
Oklahoma State 38, Mississippi State 20
Not to brag, but go back and look to see who picked Oklahoma State to beat Purdue in the Heart of Dallas Bowl by the score ofd 52-27. For those who don't remember, the actual score was 58-14. I call that a really good pick.

I've been all over the world with my thoughts on this game but at the end of the day and after watching Mississippi State on video over the summer in their bowl game against Northwestern, I keep going back to the last games that both teams played.

Yes, I believe Northwestern is better than Purdue, although the stats for both teams were pretty similar. Honestly, the season stats for Purdue and Mississippi State are close, but I know the Bulldogs are more athletic and have a lot more speed that Purdue. They also played a more difficult schedule. That is really a debate for Big 10 people to have with SEC fans.

In the end, Oklahoma State will be able to score points and Mississippi State will not be able to play ball control to the level the Bulldogs would have to in order to pull off the upset. I think Oklahoma State capitalizes with its passing game on Mississippi State's rebuilt secondary.

I also want to wait to see it but I am thinking that Oklahoma State fans will be happy about the defense this season. Tough teams that play smart with few or no turnovers and few dumb mistakes win openers. The biggest concern, especially if the game develops into a close shootout, will be special teams and the kicking game.

Big 12 Predictions
Final Record for 2012 (Straight up: 62-17, Against the spread: 44-26)

SMU 35, Texas Tech 31
Lots of points but two freshmen quarterbacks playing for a first time head coach is a bad recipe for success.

Kansas State, 38 North Dakota State 21
Former Husker Craig Boal is a really good coach of a really good FCS program, but this is Bill Snyder and Kansas State.

West Virginia 42, William & Mary 19
Mountaineers win against an over-matched foe.

No. 16 Oklahoma 45, Louisiana-Monroe 31
New QB works out well for Sooners but defense shows work is needed.

Baylor 54, Wofford 10
Bears show that Petty can play and they slip into the Top 25.

Iowa State 26, Northern Iowa 14
Cyclones get really good production out of their run offense.

No. 15 Texas 59, New Mexico State 0
New Mexico State may be the worst team in Division I.

No. 13 LSU 28, No. 20 TCU 20
It will be more fun if Les Miles and Gary Patterson were to duke it out at midfield.

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