Bill Frisbie, Lead Writer – Texas coach Mack Brown spent part of Wednesday afternoon listing the many compelling storylines surrounding the biggest Texas-Oklahoma State game in series history.
Let's see, there is Texas' secondary versus WR Dez Bryant (the Big 12's leading receiver and No. 4 in this week's Rocky Mountain News Heisman Trophy tracking service). There is Texas' linebackers versus TE Brandon Pettigrew (2007 First-Team All-Big 12). There is Texas' run defense (No. 2 nationally) versus Oklahoma State's rushing offense (No. 5 nationally). Then there's Texas QB Colt McCoy (Hesiman frontrunner and No. 4 nationally in passing efficiency) versus Cowboy QB Zac Robinson (No. 3 nationally in passing efficiency).
"Something's going to have to give," Brown said.
However, Brown overlooked (probably intentionally) the most obvious storyline: Texas has broken more hearts in Stillwater than any other Big 12 city with its succession of historic comebacks. Texas' biggest fourth-quarter rally, and its two biggest comebacks overall, were accomplished in three of the past four years at the Cowboys' expense. You won't find that kind of whack stat anywhere else.
The difference is that this is the best OSU team that Texas has faced during Brown's tenure. The Cowboys boast the Big 12's leading ground game (283.1 ypg) and are the most balanced team Texas will meet all year. But that means the Cowboys aren't expected to bombard Texas' young secondary with 30+ pass attempts. Longhorn fans have got to like the idea of a team that wants to run right at the likes of Roy Miller, Brian Orakpo, Lamarr Houston and Sergio Kindle.
An upset Saturday would atone for all those near misses against Texas. However, Okie State has never beaten a No. 1 team, it has never beaten a Mack Brown-coached team and it has not won in Austin in the post-War era. That's a lot of history to overcome, and the high-octane Cowboys just don't have the defense to make history Saturday. Texas 48, Oklahoma State 27.
Ross Lucksinger, Inside Texas Editor - I've said it all season and I will continue to say it. With how good the quarterbacks are in the Big 12, the pass rush has become everything.
The might seem odd for me to bring up, given that Texas will be facing its first real running threat in Oklahoma State, but I'm not talking about Texas' ability to get to Zac Robinson, I'm talking about Oklahoma State's inability to get to Colt McCoy.
OSU is ranked 101st in the nation in sacks with only eight in 2008 (compared to Texas's 24, good for fourth). On top of that, the Cowboys are also 96th in tackles for loss (4.71 per game). Even in the loss to Oklahoma State, Missouri's Chase Daniel was still able to throw for 390 yards and the Tigers were on the comeback trail -- it was even starting to look like a Texas-OSU game -- before some costly errors by Missouri. Oklahoma State has had major issues with getting into the backfield.
If the Cowboys manage to jump out to a big lead over Texas, as they have in three of the last four meetings, they will have trouble stopping the Horns from once again roaring back because McCoy will be able to sit back in the pocket and pick the Pokes to pieces.
But the Cowboys won't manage to jump out to a big lead. True, worse Oklahoma State teams have surprised Texas in the first half, but those were on the road against a lightly-regarded opponent that turned out to be better than advertised. In 2004, the last time the Cowboys gave Texas a challenge in Austin, the circumstances were unique. Texas had lost Oklahoma (again) and a defeatist attitude could be felt around the program. It was halftime of that game where things changed, where the Longhorns, spurred on by Vince Young's heroics, became a different team, propelling them onto the Rose Bowl.
The circumstances have changed. Texas has all the momentum and Oklahoma State is not in a position to be overlooked.
I imagine the rest of the IT staff is picking a closer game. I'm not. Mudhole. Texas 52, Oklahoma State 13.
Mike Blackwell, Inside Texas Magazine Editor – Mack Brown likes doing weird motivational stuff with his football team. For instance, this week his theme was cheese. No, really.
After beating previously top-ranked Oklahoma two games ago, and following it up with a major beat-down of Missouri, the Texas head coach is trying to ensure his team doesn't get too fat and happy.
Throughout this week of preparation for the upcoming home game against Oklahoma State, Brown has been warning against eating the "poison cheese" of overconfidence. But not only should the Longhorns be concerned about a bad case of the big head, but Brown should also remind them that playing the Cowboys can potentially be hazardous to your mental health as well.
For three consecutive years, Texas has fallen way behind the Cowboys early, only to follow the slow starts with fantastic finishes. Vince Young was the primary culprit in 2004 in Austin, and then he blitzed the Cowboys again in Stillwater in 2005. Last year, it was Colt McCoy's turn to burn the Cowboys late. Oklahoma was a short field goal away from chasing away the burnt orange demons last year, but missed the kick.
If anyone is due, it's the Cowboys against the Longhorns.
Unfortunately for OSU, Brown (with the spirited help of Will Muschamp) will not let it happen this year. Coach Cheese has a team that is mentally strong enough not to embrace the hype surrounding the top-ranked Longhorns, whose leader, Colt McCoy, demonstratively tossed the Sports Illustrated with himself on the cover in the locker room trash can last week, much to the delight of his teammates.
McCoy, in fact, uses the word "imposter" when describing Texas' number one ranking.
Which means this: the Longhorns are mature enough not to be flat this week against the dangerous Cowboys. They know the Cowboys have the ability to whip them – in fact, for three years the Longhorns have spent the great majority of their games against OSU getting kicked in the grill. But they also know that the only score that truly matters is the one reading when the clock hits 0:00, and they know OSU has been known to wilt against them late.
Yes, the Zac Robinson-led offensive attack is balanced, but the Cowboys haven't played a defense capable of stuffing the run like Texas, and that will force Robinson to throw more that he wants. After stuffing the run early and getting out to a quick two-score lead, the Longhorns will simply force the Cowboys to pass, the result of which will not be pleasant for T. Boone Pickens' club.
McCoy will not have the outlandish numbers that he recorded against Missouri, but he'll find a way to win, per usual. Then he'll rush to the locker room afterwards to see what kind of cheesy motivation ploy Brown has up his sleeve for next week's game against the tortilla-tossing Texas Tech Red Raiders. The possibilities are endless. Texas 38, Oklahoma State 17.
Michael Pearle, Co-Publisher – Oklahoma State comes into Royal-Memorial against number one Texas much the way UT entered the Cotton Bowl two weeks ago to face top-ranked OU – highly ranked after playing really good football, but under the radar. The Horns sprung the upset and are now Everybody's Number One. Can OSU turn the tables on Texas?
Certainly. The Cowboys feature an explosive offense that will throw more balance at the Texas defense than it has seen all season. Quarterback Zac Robinson is playing almost as well as Colt McCoy, and with big receiving targets in Brandon Pettigrew and Dez Bryant and a serious rushing threat in Kendall Hunter, OSU will move the ball and score. After Texas has come back from seemingly insurmountable leads time and again to beat the Cowboys recently, OSU will also have plenty of motivation to go along with its underdog role. And let's face it – all of the pressure in this game is on Numero Uno, playing at home with a massive national bull's eye on its back.
But that same pressure was on number one Texas last week as it faced a motivated Missouri, which brought an explosive offense led by a great quarterback still clinging to Heisman aspirations. In that one, the Horns proceeded to jump out to a 35-0 lead on the Tigers before coasting to a 25-point, blowout win. This Texas team has chemistry and experience on the field, and a mix of experience and new blood in the coaching ranks, and together they have been devastating.
Oklahoma State will play with Texas for four quarters Saturday, but behind a home crowd that has suddenly, with the enclosing of the north end zone, become loud, the Longhorns will outscore the Cowboys in yet another frenzied finish in a long line of them between these two teams. Texas 38, Oklahoma State 28.
Clendon Ross, Co-Publisher – It started four weeks ago when Texas traveled to Colorado, and has been a lingering question since: Is this the week? Is this the week that the Horns are exposed? Is this the week that Colt McCoy's ridiculous level of play comes back to earth (or into a defender's hands)? Is this the week that the lack of a consistent breakaway threat at the running back position bites the Texas offense in the butt? Is this the week that an opposing offense exploits the Longhorns' youthful secondary (at least enough to out-score Texas)?
This week, Oklahoma State appears to have the tools to make a run at answering all of the above in the affirmative. But I also think that, figuratively, the goalposts have moved each week. Wasn't Oklahoma capable of managing all of the above two weeks ago in the Cotton Bowl? Yes. Yet they couldn't do it. Wasn't Missouri a similar test last week in Austin? Yes. Yet they couldn't do it. So the search continues for the Achilles' Heel to manifest itself on the field rather than just on paper.
And so far, halfway through its brutal mid-season stretch, Texas has answered the call against opponents similar in stature to Oklahoma State. And I don't see that changing this weekend against the Cowboys. Sure, OSU is the most-balanced offense team Texas has faced, averaging 283.1 yards per game on the ground and 218.3 through the air, but it's not as if the Cowboys have faced a gauntlet of great defenses (Washington State, Houston, Missouri State, Troy, Texas A&M, Missouri and Baylor). Matter of fact, Oklahoma State managed 28 points in four quarters against the Tigers two weeks ago, a feat that the Horns matched on its first four first half drives against Mizzou last Saturday. Yes, Zac Robinson, Kendall Hunter and Dez Bryant will challenge Will Muschamp's D, but Brian Orakpo, Roy Miller, Sergio Kindle and Co. will return the favor, and then some.
While Oklahoma State's defense continues its long slog to respectability from previous units, it's not a shutdown unit. And slowing the efficient Texas attack means limiting it to around 40 points, and that's just not good enough to beat this Longhorn team. Texas 42, Oklahoma State 27.
Pat Culpepper: Texas 38, Oklahoma State 28.
Average of IT Members Picks: Texas 46, Oklahoma State 28