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November 3, 2011

Week 10 preview in the Big 12

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T. Boone Pickens didn't become a billionaire without getting big returns on well-calculated investments.

Thus, it shouldn't be a surprise that Oklahoma State - which has received about $265 million in athletic donations from Pickens - is in the midst of the greatest run of football success in school history.

THE SCHEDULE
SATURDAY
Texas Tech at Texas, noon
Kansas at Iowa State, 12:30 p.m.
Texas A&M at Oklahoma, 3:30 p.m.
Missouri at Baylor, 7 p.m.
Kansas State at Oklahoma State, 8 p.m.
The Cowboys are 8-0 for the first time since 1945. They're ranked No. 3 in the nation - their highest-ever ranking in November. A victory on Saturday over Kansas State would mean a fourth consecutive season with at least nine wins, which would be a school record.

Most important, the Cowboys are leading the Big 12 and will play for the BCS national championship if they can complete the season unbeaten.

Now, that's a return on an investment.

Such grand accomplishments are old hat for that "other" team in Norman. But in Stillwater, these are gloriously new and maybe unexpected experiences.

After all, the Cowboys were preseason picks to finish behind Oklahoma and Texas A&M by the Big 12 media.

"I wouldn't say we're better than we expected," defensive end Jamie Blatnick said. "I would say when it comes to BCS rankings and things like that, that's probably the most surprising, but it wasn't a big surprise. We have a lot of confidence in our team and we practice to win and be successful. If we weren't successful, that would be the surprise."

Good point. Oklahoma State was 11-2 last season and returned nine offensive starters, including All-America WR Justin Blackmon and Heisman-contending QB Brandon Weeden, who are enjoying impressive season.

Yet the level of Oklahoma State's success is a surprise if only because of the Cowboys' defensive stats. Everyone has heard that defense wins championships, and seven of the top 10 teams in the BCS standings are ranked 34th or better in the nation in total defense. No. 7 Arkansas and No. 8 Oregon are ranked 71st and 72nd, respectively, but their national championship hopes are long shots at best.

Then there is Oklahoma State, which is ranked 111th in total defense. In the BCS era, no team that has even played for the national title has ranked lower than 68th in total defense (Oklahoma in '08).

Oklahoma State supporters will point out that the defense has allowed a disproportionate amount of yardage late in games, after the Cowboys already were comfortably ahead.

In addition, the Cowboys have compensated by forcing turnovers: Oklahoma State leads the nation with 29 forced turnovers. The Cowboys have forced at least three - and as many as six - turnovers in each of the past six games.

Forcing turnovers has become as routine as Weeden's touchdown passes.

"I don't know if you can ever count on it," coach Mike Gundy said of forcing turnovers. "I feel like we're going to get turnovers. Our guys have made a believer out of me, but we would never expect it based on our approach to the game. I guess that sometime, that could run out.

"Maybe that won't happen, but if it does then the offense needs to be more efficient and take advantage of the opportunities they do have."

The opportunity is there for Oklahoma State reach New Orleans, but it won't come easy. Four games remain. Two are against ranked opponents - Kansas State and Oklahoma. Two are on the road - Texas Tech and Iowa State. Texas Tech upset Oklahoma, and Iowa State upset Texas Tech.

"We've got to take care of business," Weeden said. "That's our first and foremost goal."

T. Boone Pickens wouldn't have it any other way.

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Best matchup: Texas Tech's pass offense vs. Texas' pass defense. The Red Raiders are third in the Big 12 in pass offense, though they sure didn't look it in last week's 41-7 loss to Iowa State. Conversely, Texas leads the Big 12 in pass defense. Texas Tech QB Seth Doege had thrown for at least 366 yards in four consecutive games before last week's debacle. Texas has contained every quarterback it has faced with the exception of OU's Landry Jones.

Player on the spot: Kansas State DE Meshak Williams. As the Wildcats' leader with eight sacks, he is going to have to carry the load for the entire pass rush. A week ago, Williams and the Wildcats could get no pressure on Oklahoma's Jones and he threw for more than 500 yards. This week, K-State faces Oklahoma State QB Brandon Weeden, who is sixth in the nation in passing yardage. If the Wildcats cannot get pressure, Weeden may also have a career-best passing performance. And just for the record, Weeden's career-high is 438 yards.

Keep an eye on: Oklahoma QB Landry Jones. He has passed for at least 363 yards and three touchdowns in six consecutive games. In the past two, he has thrown for 917 yards and 10 touchdowns, including a school-record 505 passing yards last week at Kansas State. He's hot. He will be facing a Texas A&M defense that's not. The Aggies are last nationally in pass defense. So far this season, Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden (438 yards), Arkansas' Tyler Wilson (501 yards) and Baylor's Robert Griffin (430 yards) have set school single-game records for passing yardage when playing A&M. Jones may join the club.

Numbers game: In Texas A&M's three losses, the Aggies have led by at least 11 points at halftime in each of the games. But in the second half of those games, the Aggies have managed just 13 points and have committed seven turnovers.

What they're saying

"We've got an opportunity with these next four games. As we all know, you're remembered more by what you do in November, and hopefully we can make a good statement." - Kansas coach Turner Gill, to the Lawrence (Kan.) Journal World

"He is a walking iPhone. He can do anything." - Missouri CB Kip Edwards, on Baylor QB Robert Griffin III

"Slight mistakes end up causing big mistakes that throw off the timing of the play. You miss a throw here, drop a ball there, miss a block here - it all adds up. If one guy misses on this play and another on the next, it starts snowballing." - Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill, on the Aggies blowing three double-digit leads in losses, including last week to Missouri

Poll watch: It's gonna be Bedlam. Oklahoma State is third in the BCS standings. Oklahoma is sixth. If they can avoid upsets, the Dec. 3 Bedlam showdown between the Cowboys and Sooners could decide the Big 12 championship and also a berth in the BCS national championship game. From OU's perspective, that would require some cooperation from Stanford and possibly Boise State. Meanwhile, No. 19 Kansas State and No. 25 Texas are the only other conference teams included in the coaches' poll. Texas A&M and Texas Tech fell out of the top 25 after losses last week.

Etc.: Baylor QB Robert Griffin III has set a single-season school record with 24 touchdown passes. Griffin also has passed for more than 400 yards in back-to-back games. ... In last week's loss to Iowa State, Texas Tech failed to throw a touchdown pass for the first time in five years. ... Oklahoma's leading rusher Dominique Whaley, a walk-on, is out for the rest of the season with a fractured left ankle, but the Sooners announced he would be put on scholarship in December. ... Texas coach Mack Brown indicated that true freshman QB David Ash would make his third consecutive start this week. ... Zach Guyer has been named Iowa State's No. 1 kicker over Grant Mahoney. Guyer converted field goals from 23 and 42 yards vs. Texas Tech. ... In last week's loss to Texas, Kansas was shut out for the first time since 2002 and set a dubious school record by managing only three first downs, its lowest total since 1968. ... Kansas State QB Collin Klein has scored 12 rushing touchdowns over the past four games. ... Oklahoma C Ben Habern has missed five games with a broken forearm, but has returned to practice and is expected to play this week. CB Jamell Fleming is expected to be back in the starting lineup two weeks after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery. ... Oklahoma State P/K Quinn Sharp is third in the nation in punting, 10th in scoring and first in touchbacks on kickoffs. ... Missouri's rally from an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter against Texas A&M last week was the second-largest fourth-quarter comeback in school history; the Tigers rallied from 13 down to beat Nebraska in 1949. ... Texas A&M RB Cyrus Gray has become the sixth player in Big 12 history wish 6,000 career rushing yards. ... Texas Tech redshirt freshman CB Shawn Corker, a converted wide receiver, may get his first career start Saturday in place of Tre' Porter (head). CB Eugene Neboh (groin) is questionable and SS Terrance Bullitt (dislocated shoulder) is out. ... Oklahoma will unveil a stature of former coach Barry Switzer on Saturday. ... Texas CB Adrian Phillips (shoulder) sat out last week, but should be back in the lineup on Saturday. ... Texas A&M WR Jeff Fuller is slowed by an apparent turf toe injury, and CB Coryell Judie (hamstring) is questionable. ... Oklahoma has added a "wildcat" package to its offense with backup QB Blake Bell. ... Texas has boosted its running game by lining up G Luke Poehlmann at tight end in some sets. Texas had two freshmen - Malcolm Brown and Joe Bergeron - rush for more than 100 yards in the same game for the first time in school history last week against Kansas. ... Longtime Oklahoma sportscaster Bob Barry, who began calling OU games during the Bud Wilkinson era, died this week at the age of 80.

Olin Buchanan is the senior college football writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at olin@rivals.com.

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