Two of the most dreaded words in sports are "must win" because they imply if a team loses then all is lost and the season is not worth continuing to play. That really isn't the case here, but if Oklahoma State is going to achieve its most basic goal going into the season then they really do have to win.
Every day at the end of practice head coach Mike Gundy shouts out a player's name and tells him to call 'em up. That player then circles up his teammates and the team counts, "one - two- three, Big 12 champs." If Oklahoma State is going to have a shot at what is likely to be a topsy-turvy, roller-coaster season and a November scramble for the Big 12 Championship between as many as five or six teams then a win over Texas Saturday is needed to stay in the hunt.
A loss to the Longhorns and it is highly unlikely that the Cowboys will be competing for the Big 12 title. The season would not be over as the team still shoots for six wins, as many wins as possible and then a school-record 11th consecutive bowl trip. That record keeps extending every year as it was first set in Gundy's fifth season as head coach with a fourth straight bowl appearance. It is now up to 10 and looking for 11.
It would be a shame not to jump into this race with both feet as the Big 12 looks so wide open. I don't think Baylor is going unbeaten and while OU, TCU, Texas, West Virginia, and Kansas State all look like contenders, no team, even pre-season favorite Oklahoma, looks dominant.
The Cowboys need to win and then gather some momentum into October. Bad mistakes have cost Oklahoma State two wins. The Central Michigan game featured a huge mistakes by the officiating and replay officiating crews, but the Cowboys had mistakes themselves that afternoon. Then there were turnovers, preventable turnovers, and big plays allowed galore last week in Waco in a loss to a Baylor team that is vulnerable. This is a good year to get your team together because a run can be done.
Texas looked pretty impressive with the opening win on national television on Sunday of Labor Day weekend over then 10th-ranked Notre Dame, but the Irish are now 1-3, and Texas lost to Cal before its open weekend last Saturday. The Longhorns are better, improved, but not as good as years gone by. They are another of the six or seven teams in the Big 12 that could make a title run.
Oklahoma State needs to know where the beef is on Saturday and go get a big chunk of beef to fuel a run of its own. This strange series has also featured road warriors as the Cowboys have won the last four times the series has been played in Austin and Texas hasn't lost in Stillwater since 1997. It's time to show a home-field advantage against the Longhorns.
Here are the key matchups for Oklahoma State hosting No. 25 Texas.
OSU Middle Linebacker #45 Chad Whitener
vs. Texas Running Backs #33 D'Onta Foreman and #25 Chris Warren III
A few weeks ago Chad Whitener (pictured above) said he really embraced the opportunity to play power football with the Pitt Panthers and their pair of jumbo running backs including James Conner. The Panthers rushed for 290 yards but a healthy chunk of that was not from the "power" game but the Jet sweeps and jet flips. Whitener made good on his promise to be ready to play "big boy" football as he had eight tackles, all unassisted, and a tackle for loss. That PItt game, at least the powers, zones, and loads run by the Panthers, was good prep for the Longhorns arrival on Saturday. Foreman is 6-1, 249 pounds and Warren is 6-2, 252 pounds. Whitener is just behind at 6-0, 248 pounds, but he is tough. He doesn't shy away from real physical play. You have to greet those human Bevos in the backfield or at least the line of scrimmage because a head of steam and they will get six yards for fun. First downs and stopping the Horns from second- and third-and-shorts will be a key to the game.
My Call: Whitener is a fighter but being outweighed by Warren by four pounds and by Foreman by one pound, I'm going to give an edge to the big backs, but I need to be wrong.
OSU Strong Safety #31 Tre Flowers
vs. Texas Slot Receiver #11 Jacorey Warrick
If Texas can run the ball then this matchup may not matter. But if the Longhorns run game is ground to a halt then freshman quarterback Shane Buechele will be looking for targets and he has some in John Burt, a track speed with size wide receiver. There is also former quarterback Jerrod Heard, who has converted nicely to a receiver, and Jacorey Warrick, who has the best ability to rack up yards after the catch. Warrick is elusive and also has speed, but his vision and knack for making people miss causes him to be circled and starred as the most dangerous receiver the Longhorns have. Cowboy fans should think of Jalen McCleskey, who is good now but how much better he'll be as a senior with all those lessons learned? Warrick is a senior.
My Call: Too close to call as I could see Warrick making big plays, but I can also see Flowers making his life miserable and fairly inconsequential.
OSU Quarerback #2 Mason Rudolph
vs. Texas Middle Linebacker #46 Malik Jefferson
Mason Rudolph is off to a really solid start and seems to be getting better each week. I thought Rudolph had great command of the offense and the game plan last week at Baylor. The week before he had that monster 540 passing yards against Pitt. Rudolph has a good grasp of his abilities and what he is capable of doing. His lone setback last week was a fumble and he needs to get better at ball security and when he anticipates pressure, which he senses really well then an alarm needs to go off to protect the football. Rudolph will have eyes for Jefferson as the sophomore linebacker from the Dallas area is one of the best playmakers on defense in the nation. He can do so much damage to a run or a pass by the offense. Rudolph needs to play keep away from Jefferson and keep the Cowboys offense balanced and hungry.
My Call: Jefferson is good, but Rudolph is off to a really good start and I have a strong feeling he is going to play very well on Saturday.
Oklahoma State-Texas Prediction
It's another Big 12 week and another close game, there will be a lot of these all throughout the season because there aren't any teams that can just kick your butt without exposing a fault on their side. I really think there are two key barometers for the game. Show me the offense that has the most success, especially consistent success on first down and that is one huge indicator. Another key indicator will be the Cowboys rushing yards. If Oklahoma State can run for north of 130 yards and keep Texas interested in defending the run then the passing game can have room to operate and go crazy. Something else that hasn't been brought up, Oklahoma State is not the number one Oklahoma team on the Texas hit list. That would be Oklahoma and and the Longhorns annual battle in the Cotton Bowl is next week. Maybe, Texas will be looking somewhat ahead. Rudolph and the entire offense, especially the offensive line, and the defense up the middle with Vincent Taylor and Mate Maile, Chad Whitener, Jordan Sterns and Tre Flowers, it is time to honor those names and celebrate another win, a home win over Texas.
Oklahoma State 35, No. 25 Texas 31
Big 12 Predictions
Record: Last Week, SU 4-1 ATS 3-1; This Year, SU 23-9 ATS 14-10
Kansas 23, @Texas Tech 54
Softest defense in the Big 12 (Texas Tech) meets most maligned offense in the Big 12 (Kansas).
No. 13 Baylor 41, @Iowa State 20
Tough place to play in Ames, but Baylor will slide on through.
Kansas State 34, @West Virginia 31
K-State has never lost to West Virginia since the Mountaineers came in the Big 12.
Oklahoma 35, @No. 21 TCU 45
Horned Frogs win it for the new Frogs salute wardrobe.