Are the Cowboys ready for Big 12 opponents?

From Aug. 30 to now, the evaluation period has given us little to go by. Has there been drastic improvement from the shaky team that lost to the unranked Cornhuskers? With a padded schedule since, it is a little hard to tell.

Push-over after push-over after push-over.


That is what the Oklahoma State schedule has looked like for the past two weeks and will look like for the next three.


After hammering Wyoming and Southwest Missouri State, the Cowboys make their way to Dallas to face the SMU Mustangs. This stretch is a good thing for OSU, but the big question is, "How do you evaluate performance against such dismal teams?"


The answer? Improvement.


"This is a run where that's important, that we not only win, we improve," said OSU coach Les Miles. "Our offensive line needs to improve. I think the kicking game in spots needs to improve. I think some of the timing and some of the things we're doing in the passing game also need to improve."


It is a simple and somewhat unsatisfying answer.


There is no way to judge how well this team will perform against top Big 12 opponents based on the Kansas State-like nonconference schedule except that every week the Cowboys are getting better.


"If I was the head coach of this team I'd say my players are getting better each week," said offensive lineman Sam Mayes. "If the technique is not perfect, the effort is always there."


While improvement and effort are vitally important, where did they start? The Nebraska loss showed where OSU was at the beginning, but it can be taken more than one way.


A true homer could say that the Pokes held the No. 15 team in the country – then unranked – to only three real offensive points. And if the offense could have produced just one more touchdown, OSU would be undefeated right now.


On the other hand, it could be said that the Cowboys lost to a Nebraska team that struggled with Utah State in the first half, and the only reason the Cornhuskers are ranked is because they beat an OSU team that was ranked No. 24 preseason. As with most things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.


Despite needing to work on timing in the passing game, the Cowboys are doing what they are supposed to do against their nonconference opponents, blowing them out.


Usually OSU struggles with at least one sub-par team, and while that still could happen, the previous two games are encouraging. This week, against SMU, there are two specific tests for the Cowboys. They have to stop Doak Walker Award candidate Keylon Kincade in the running game, and they have to win on the road.


With OSU traveling to places like College Station or Norman, a loss or even a close game in Dallas against the Mustangs could cast a dark shadow and looming question marks over the rest of the road season.


"Have we lost some road games? Yes," Mayes said. "Have we played against some great football teams? Yes. Nebraska's a hard place to play. Texas A&M's a hard place to play. Everywhere we go is one of those great arenas to play football in. But I don't expect anything less of my teammates than a victory this time."


With improvement from an indefinite origin remaining the only arbiter of success for OSU at this time, the players and coaches themselves may not know for sure if this team can handle the onslaught of Big 12 juggernauts they are about to face.


Pending an unexpected loss to SMU or Louisiana-Lafayette, no one can be certain of the Cowboys' fate until after their Big 12 home opener against Kansas State.

Along with the work he does for and the O-State Sports Report, Matt Palmer is also the OSU football beat writer for the Enid News and Eagle. You can reach Matt at

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