Fortunes and perceptions can change quickly in the Big 12 as we saw again last weekend.
The Oklahoma State University football team limped into their October 20th bye week, having lost two straight games and three of their last four. In those three losses the Cowboys had been outscored an average of roughly 40 to 24. After starting the season with three straight blowout wins Cowboys fans could not help but wonder if they had overrated their team. Then last weekend happened.
Before a rabid home crowd on Homecoming weekend, the previously maligned Cowboys donned their freshest Barry Sanders throwbacks and stunned the No. 6 Texas Longhorns 38-35. Although Texas fought to make it a close game at the end, OSU nearly threw a knockout punch in the first half. Mike Yurcich’s offense rolled up 502 yards of offense behind an eye-popping 222 receiving yards from Tylan Wallace, who also snagged two beautiful touchdowns. Jim Knowles’ defense looked shaky late, but held Texas to only 14 points in the first half and a lower point total than the team had yielded to Texas Tech or Iowa State. After likely overrating their team earlier in the season, Cowboys fans were now left wondering if they had over corrected and were now underrating the Pokes.
In order to determine how heavily to weigh the team’s losses, let’s revisit the opponent in each of the Cowboys’ three losses: Texas Tech, Iowa State, and Kansas State.
1. TEXAS TECH
The Score: 41-17
Texas Tech’s Record Entering the Game: (2-1, 0-0)
Texas Tech’s Record Since: (2-2, 2-2)
Texas Tech’s Best Win Since: @ TCU, 17-14
Texas Tech’s Worst Loss Since: West Virginia, 42-34
Behind electric quarterback Alan Bowman and towering receiver T.J. Vasher, Texas Tech obliterated the Cowboys defense and hounded Taylor Cornelius all night long. After leaving Stillwater with the victory, it looked like Kliff Kingsbury’s Red Raiders finally the defense to keep pace with his team’s offense in order to make a serious Big 12 challenge. It’s been an up-and-down season for Texas Tech since then.
“Showman” Bowman went down early in the first half of the team’s next game against West Virginia and had to be replaced by the inexperienced sophomore Jett Duffy. The Mountaineers went on to roll 42-34. After the game, it was announced that Bowman had suffered a punctured lung. Texas Tech’s defense rallied around Duffey in an impressive 17-14 Thursday night game against TCU in Fort Worth and looked strong in Bowman’s return, a 48-16 thumping of Kansas. Then, last week, Tech gave up an early lead and fell to Iowa State, 40-31.
It’s hard to judge the Raiders too harshly due to the injuries to Bowman at quarterback, but it has become clear that, while improved, the Texas Tech defense is not as stout as it appeared against Oklahoma State. However, the Raiders’ offense, which entered the Oklahoma State game leading the FBS in total offense is still an impressive seventh in the nation in total offense, even with the injury to Bowman.
TEXAS TECH is PRETTY DECENT and the loss was NOT ALL THAT BAD.
2. IOWA STATE
The Score: 48-42
Iowa State’s Record Entering the Game: (1-3, 0-2)
Iowa State’s Record Since: (2-0, 2-0)
Iowa State’s Best Win Since: No. 6 West Virginia, 30-14
Iowa State’s Worst Loss: N/A
Iowa State slunk into their game against Oklahoma State having had a sure win cancelled against South Dakota State, having been beaten handedly by their in-state rival Iowa, and recently falling in a competitive game against Oklahoma. It didn’t appear that this team was very good. Facing the Cowboys without their leading rusher David Montgomery, the Cyclones trotted out a surprise starter: third-string quarterback Brock Purdy. It turns out Purdy’s pretty good and Iowa State is too.
Led by Purdy, Iowa State torched the Cowboys. He was 18 of 23 for 318 yards and four touchdowns and added 84 yards and another touchdown on the ground for good measure. He’s been lighting it up ever since. New-look Iowa State went on to upset No. 6 West Virginia 30-14 behind three more Purdy touchdowns and contained the powerful Texas Tech offense enough to stymy the Raiders 40-31.
Like Texas Tech, Iowa State’s record says more about the team’s injuries than their talent. Now that they’ve found their quarterback of the future, the Cyclones would love another crack at Iowa. Had Purdy started against Iowa and had the game against South Dakota State not been cancelled due to rain, Iowa State could well be 6-2 right now with a win over a top-10 team.
IOWA STATE is ACTUALLY GOOD and the loss was NOT BAD AT ALL.
3. KANSAS STATE
The Score: 31-12
Kansas State’s Record Entering the Game: (2-4, 0-3)
Kansas State’s Record Since: (0-1, 01)
Kansas State’s Best Win Since: N/A
Kansas State’s Worst Loss: @ No. 8 Oklahoma, 51-14
This is the only inexcusable loss of the season. Despite having (arguably) the Big 12’s best running back in Justice Hill and (definitely) the Big 12’s best wide receiver in Tylan Wallace, the widely-panned Kansas State defense steamrolled Oklahoma State offense and intercepted quarterback Taylor Cornelius twice in embarrassing fashion.
It’s been a small sample size for Kansas State since and perhaps unfair to assess their progress by one game at No. 8 Oklahoma, but probably safe to say that the Wildcats’ defense isn’t as good as it may have appeared in one game against OSU. Kyler Murray set them on fire, throwing for three touchdowns and running for a fourth.
No way to spin this, guys: it’s still Kansas State.
KANSAS STATE is VERY BAD and the loss was [Editor’s Note: he’s just screaming profanity]
So where does that leave us? Like Texas Tech and Iowa State, Oklahoma State is better than its record appears. This is a team that’s been rocked by the McCluskey transfer, hit with injuries to the offensive line and defense, and is competing in a wide-open league with some of the nation’s best offenses. The Cowboys are better than their 5-3 record appears, but only just. This is a team that’s ultimately limited by its quarterback and secondary. This is a team with new coordinators still figuring things out. Plus, there’s twitter, which can like, really weigh on you too.
There will be a new quarterback next year who will be rusty, but ultimately have a higher ceiling than Cornelius. Barring some declarations for the NFL draft, Justice Hill, Chuba Hubbard, J.D. King, Tyron Joahnson, Dillon Stoner, Tylan Wallace, and Landon Wolf will all be back on offense. Jim Knowles will have another year to preach his defensive schemes. Although it might be better for the Cowboys long term to play Spencer Sanders or even Shaun Taylor, Cornelius is good enough to keep the Cowboys in 3 of their 4 remaining games. They should prevail in road games against Baylor and TCU, but should lose handedly in a Bedlam series game at Oklahoma and will likely lose a close game against West Virginia.
If Cornelius can continue his improvement and keep finding Wallace on deep routes to keep teams from loading up the box to stop Justice Hill, the Cowboys’ best case scenario is to win three of their last four and finish 8-4 en route to a New Years Day game. If they don’t learn from and study these losses, however, the team is likely headed for 7-5 and an obscure bowl.